In November 2018, Chinese scientist Jiankui He claimed that he has firstly created a pair of genetically edited embryos using a tool called CRISPR Cas9 to eliminate a gene called CCR5. This trial enrolled 7 couples of embryos, both of whom were HIV-positive fathers and HIV-negative mothers. Finally, one group of successful pregnancy a group of twins, LuLu and Nana, naturally have an ability to resist possible future infection with HIV. (BBC 2018) However, this potentially ground-breaking medical achievement arouses a global drastic controversy. (The Guardian 2018) The babies have been born healthily without any known disease, but the future cannot be predicted.
A Goodwill Should be Respected – Necessity of Technical Development
The child’s genes are edited in the state of fertilized eggs under the premise of father’s infection with AIDS, so that the child can obtain an ability to resist possible future infection with HIV, it is a good new for the community of humankind. First, if a family has AIDS children, it is very painful for the child’s growth. Of course, parents will also bring corresponding economic burdens and psychological pressures, and will have strong dependence on society, such as medical care, social welfare and special education. Secondly, the rational use of gene editing technology not only protects the child’s right to life but also maintains the quality of life of the child’s parents, especially in some countries where abortion is not allowed. Gene editing technology can effectively and efficiently solve such problems. It correspond with Utilitarianism, which means that the action that brings the greatest happiness for the greatest number should be chosen. (Poel and Royakkers 2011, p.78) Therefore, the application of this gene editing is not in violation of engineering ethics under the appropriate review mechanism.
From the perspective of engineers’ cautious technical enthusiasm and their right to assume positive responsibilities, this application of gene-editing technology should not be unfairly ethical condemned. Moreover, ethics is autonomy (Poel and Royakkers 2011, p.13). The parties of the experiment has the right to ultimately determine what his ethics are rather others. Dr He said he had completely clear goals and told the participants that embryo gene editing had never been tried before and carried risk (BBC 2018), which shows that he had fully considered the consequences. Besides, he would provide insurance coverage for any children conceived through the project and plan medical follow-up until they are 18, and longer if they agree. This proves he will take his due responsibilities very seriously, which are consistent with Bovens’ definitions of engineer active responsibility (Poel and Royakkers 2011, p.19).
From duty and care ethics point of view, this experiment is also meet the requirements, the aim of the gene editing of the babies was to save them from the risk of AIDS their parents bringing. Gene editing in vitro fertilization process to make the children permanently lose the risk of HIV infection is undoubtedly the most effective and efficient way to ensure their right to life and health, the most basic human rights. Besides, Dr He paid for the whole experiment himself, with fully goodwill, which is the only thing that is unconditionally good in Kantian ethics (Poel and Royakkers 2011, p.81). In addition children can have unlimited contact with their parents in the future. It gives them the rights and joys that every normal family can have, which will be supported by the care ethics.
Man is Born Free – Ethical Issues Behind
First of all, according to the duty ethics (Poel and Royakkers 2011, p.89), the action of creating gene-edited babies is morally wrong whether the coming consequence of it is beneficial because it is against the moral law and principle. Many countries, including the United Kingdom, have laws prohibiting the use of genome editing in embryos to aid human reproduction and this experiment has not been reviewed and approved. (BBC 2018)
Secondly, the researcher said his goal was not to cure or prevent an inherited disease, but to try to bestow a trait that few people naturally have an ability to resist possible future infection with HIV. (The Guardian 2018) I think it is inconsistent with the utility principle which indicates one ought to conduct actions that lead to the greatest happiness for the greatest number. (Poel and Royakkers 2011, p.81) However, utilitarianism also received many criticisms because of many issues need further considerations. Here, happiness of gene-edited babies cannot be measured objectively and utilitarianism can lead to unintended exploitation.
Due to the high cost of genetic editing technology, it may be only affordable for rich, which will cause social tension and increase the relatively worsened health status of the world’s poor. As Greely pointed out, a perfectly feasible 10-20% improvement in health via preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), could lead to a widening of the health gap between rich and poor, both within a society and between nations. (The Guardian 2017) More importantly, it lead to situations that are not in line with the original intention of the researcher even if his final goal is to achieve the good life. (Poel and Royakkers 2011, p.96)
Furthermore, responsibility means in the first place being held accountable for your actions. Admittedly engineers do have the specific technical knowledge and they do know about, for example, the risks that may be involved in technology. (Poel and Royakkers 2011, p.22-23) There has a potential risk in this research, which may cause other diseases after editing the gene.
Finally, according to Kant, the categorical imperative also implies a postulate of equal and universal human worth. As a rational being should have the right to make up her or his own mind. The reciprocity principle tells us that we should respect people as people, and not ‘use’ them. (Poel and Royakkers 2011, p.91) In this research, baby did not be treated as a rational being but as an experiment product, causing the baby did not make a decision by himself. Maybe this study can promote the development of science and technology, the parties to the experimental product are unaware of the present, did not treat the baby equally, and did not respect human rights. This is not acceptable. Also, the baby may not want to be responsible for irrelevant people. We should help others, but there is no absolute duty to give one’s whole life to helping others. Perfect duties will take precedence over imperfect ones such that we cannot help someone by violating the rights of others.
Although this experiment is controversial, the gene-edited baby is not ethical and should be banned.