Gene Therapy is Ethical in Humans

Lily Moreschi, Assistant Managing Editor

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Gene therapy is defined as altering an organism’s genome, either by insertion, correction, or deletion of specific genes, in order to cure a disease by a method other than surgery or drugs. While most gene therapy techniques are experimental, they exist in order to prevent diseases at the root cause. With the expansion of gene therapy comes the potential to save patients from shortened life spans and complicated medical procedures.
The CRISPR/Cas9 system is a relatively new method of gene therapy that has the ability to alter specific genes of human embryos or stem cells. CRISPR stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats of genetic information, which some bacterial species use as an antiviral system with the assistance of the Cas9 enzyme. In comparison to many other genetic engineering systems, CRISPR is inexpensive and easy, as it is a natural mechanism found in many bacteria. Although many treatments involving CRISPR are still hypothetical, these situations raise concerns over the ethical nature and lasting effects of genetic alterations. If not done correctly, genetic modification could lead to generations of unfavorable gene mutations; however, if done precisely, it could also lead to the eradication of terminal genetic disorders.
Concerns over the lasting effects of human gene modification have led many people to call for a temporary, or even permanent, ban on clinical uses of CRISPR. These people fear that it will affect progeny in negative ways by giving them unnatural or unfavorable traits.
This is a valid point. Genetic engineering is a field of study that has just scratched the surface of its potential. There is no way to know the effects it will have years from now. One concern is that if genetic alteration in human embryos becomes too common and too specific, it could lead to ‘designer babies.’ ‘Designer babies’ are babies whose genetic makeup has been specifically selected to ensure the presence or absence of a particular gene. The prominence of these children would provide a severe opening for an increase in the socioeconomic divide and discrimination, as ‘designer babies’ could only be created by those who are of higher economic status.
However, the argument people use against genetic engineering is ultimately one big ‘what if?’ scenario. All of their support is hypothetical, and there is no way to know for sure if it could or would ever occur.
As of 2018, only a few genetic engineering techniques have been approved for human use by the United States Food and Drug Administration. Those approved are primarily being used to help cure diseases that would otherwise be incurable. Many of these diseases, such as cystic fibrosis, create harder and shortened life spans for those affected.
The fact is, with the technology available today, genetic engineering is only being used for good purposes: healing those who would otherwise be considered incurable. The idea of regular people genetically changing their embryos for their own pleasure is many years away. There is no doubt that the debate over the ethics of tinkering with genes will continue, but for now, gene therapy technologies should continue to progress and help people affected by serious genetic disorders.