We like to tinker and play with things. To alter them to better suit our needs. We do it with the ground beneath our feet, the food we eat, the creatures we share the planet with, and even other planets in our Solar System. It’s what makes humanity so successful. Our curiosity and proclivity to explore and learn has driven our evolution faster than any natural process.
We have vaccines to prevent illness and medicines to treat the ones we can’t yet prevent. In fact, we’ve gotten so good at preventing and treating ailments that an increasing number of our society doubts the validity of the very treatments that afford them the luxury of questioning medicine in the first place. We are on a quest to put as much distance between us and the number two place holder on the planetary food chain, but where do we stop? How far is too far when it comes to altering ourselves and the world around us?
A recent study conducted by U.S. and South Korean scientists tested the ability to use Crispr gene editing technology on human embryos to remove the gene that causes hypertrophic cardiomyopathy; a form of heart disease that causes the heart to suddenly stop beating. The study showed 72% of embryos free from the mutation that causes the disease after the gene modification.
Which is incredible.
The development of Crispr and other related gene editing techniques that have made such work cheaper and more efficient has opened an interesting door for our future. As with just about every technological endeavor that mankind embarks on, gene editing will likely become better and better in the near future. This raises a pressing question: When do we stop? At what point do we stop playing with nature? Or do we? Is there a reason to stop? How many people were settled in with “that’s just how the world is” and opposed to the idea of vaccines before they saw horrors of polio stricken children diminish? How are we going to react when we see hereditary genetic disorders start to be removed from family lineage? Would you rather leave your child’s DNA alone instead of fixing a defect that could cause them massive pain or discomfort and a life of limited ability?
I am honestly on the fence, but I am definitely leaning towards moving forward. The risks are tremendous, but will likely decrease with further advancements and testing. The risks are likely to be that of vaccines today where a very small percentage of people see negative effects and some have to avoid them altogether just to be safe. It’s that slim margin of chance though that makes me think: How could I live with myself having increased my child’s burden in trying to eliminate it? Even with good intention at its core, I would damn myself for making the decision.
But I’m brought back to the possibilities….we could eliminate genetic disorders almost entirely; another step in conquering the world.
My biggest fear is not for the possible risks from the attempts at saving future generations. Medicine is not perfect and the price is sometimes paid by an unfortunate few for the benefit of many. No, I fear for the ones who will try to use this to control others; the few who will try to impose their views forcefully on the innocent. As much pride as I have in humanity I know that at our core we are capable of just as much darkness as we are light. There will always be ones who try to manipulate and control for their own gain; a sect that wishes to have quiet, obedient worker bees that fall in line and don’t object.
But, as with advances in the past, that fear has to be reconciled. We can’t possibly go forward if we limit our progress to the immense hypothetical misuses that could be thought up. We must act with good intent in our choices and unite together to resist those who might try to harm us no matter the means. So while I am a bit reserved regarding the forthcoming jump in our ability to edit ourselves at a genetic level, I have hope. Hope in you and me. Hope for humanity to continue our wild trek through the universe.
Let’s keep exploring.