Is it ethical to implement gene-edited technology into human embryonic stem cell?

Group 44

In November of 2018, A Chinese scientist claimed that he had “produced” the world first Gene-edited twins who were born healthily. This man, whose name is He Jiankui, claimed that he used a Gene-editing technique called clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) to modify a certain genome (CCR5) in two embryos to create babies that could resistant human immunodeficiency viruses (H.I.V.) infection. This announcement caused global debates about whether we should use gene-edited technology into human test and academic scholars and specialists show negative responses or even serious criticisms, most of whom argued that this technology and experiment are an unethical procedure.

Long-term Benefits Outweigh

Since CRISPR was firstly described in 2012, this technology has made gene-editing become more economical and easier. Research showed that the successful CRISPR gene-editing technology had been proven on editing pig’s embryos with 100% of success rate. This technology inactivated viruses which cause disease for organ transplants. With the success in pigs and other animals, biologists showed positive opinion on that the gene-editing technology has the potential to go further for clinical experiments on a human. Currently, there are around 16 people die in the USA every day due to organ transplant failure, the above-mentioned technology is expected to be beneficial to thousands of people. Furthermore, researchers all over the world are working continuously to identify its applications of this technology in curing various ailments, such as inherited diseases and blindness. With these successful researches in genome editing, CRISPR becomes more mature and provides an efficient, accurate and safe solution and is a Utilitarianism approach of Ethics.

Besides, the explosive debate that scholars criticised the gene-edited babies project is mainly because there are several uncertainties or potential hazards through the babies growth. In fact, scientists state that people who are born with both copies of CCR₅ disabled are resistant to H.I.V., they are more susceptible to West Nile virus and Japanese encephalitis. However, this problem could be overcome under certain regulations and supervisions. In this specific circumstance, Dr He apparently violated the “14 days rule”, which limits the research on human embryos to the first 14 days after fertilisation, has long been a pillar of regulation in this contested area. And these regulations should be changed based on the matureness of technology development. Logically, the technology or even clinical experiment themselves are ethically based on Duty ethics and necessary for most of the biological programs. For instance, Edward Jenner cured smallpox by applying a solution containing cowpox to a healthy person’s wound, they will develop immunity to smallpox. Therefore, it is vital to maintain the balance between developing new technology in the biological field and obeying certain governances. 

Inherited Disaster

Judging from the case of “the world’s first gene-edited baby” in China, even if all the parents involved in the experiment who provided the human embryos were well educated, they were voluntary and they were authorised to withdraw from the experiment at any time. But there are three ethical problems with this case.

First of all, in this experiment, the experimenter takes a human as the experimental object, while a human is not a mouse. Human has the right of self-selection. Therefore a controversial question arises: can parents make decisions about whether their unborn baby’s genes will be edited? If these gene-edited babies fail and suffer pain or side effects later in life, who should be responsible? This issue clearly touches the bottom line of human rights. In addition to that, although the whole operation was successful, as the first generation of gene editing babies, they may need repeated and regular medical examinations and live in the spotlight for the rest of their lives, which is obviously unfair to these two innocent babies.

Second, the immature CRISPR technology was used in this case, and its off-target effect is still a problem that experts in related fields and even the inventor of CRISPR technology have not yet solved. In fact, this effect not only causes genetic mutations but also because the genes being edited focus on germ cells. Therefore, gene editing is bound to be inherited, and it will present a large area of “human genome pollution” with the increase and reproduction of human beings whose genes have been edited. Over many generations, as “humans” became humans that were no longer naturally developed and evolved by selection. The downside: gene editing leads to irreparable human defects. Naturally born humans might see a gene-editing baby as a killer. On the positive side, people with good gene editing become “perfect” superior humans, while those without good gene editing become “incomplete” inferior humans. Thus, in both positive and negative ways, gene editing poses a fatal moral problem: discrimination, which goes against moral equality.

Third, and on a technical level, CRISPR is not difficult at all, but the accuracy with which genes are edited is low. Therefore, the success of the experimenter, in this case, must be premised on the sacrifice of countless human embryos. In fact, the team in this case genetically edited about 30 embryos, and one human embryo was in the early stages of pregnancy. Sixteen more embryos were frozen for a number of reasons, and the future status of the frozen embryos remains unknown. However, these embryos have biological properties of humans, so they are potential human beings. The experimenter’s behaviour was clearly unethical.

Ethically speaking, with respect to the normative ethics, it is undoubtedly that from utilitarianism perspective, the scientists are aspiring that gene-editing experiment possess with the potential to conquer the obstacle of the fatal diseases; however, it rebels to the core value of deontology, that rational and reasonable motivation to embark on the experiment, and the capability of handling the responsibility.

Initial Decision

In our opinion, it is unethical to implement gene-edited technology into human embryonic stem cell based on current technological development.

1 thought on “Is it ethical to implement gene-edited technology into human embryonic stem cell?

  1. Try and bring in the four theories more for your discussion in assignment two. I think you’re aware of these theories but you need to state them clearly in assignment two.

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