Human genetic engineering is moving forward exponentially and there is still no meaningful societal, regulatory, or legislative conversation about whether, how, and to what extent we should permit the human genome to be altered in ways that flow down the generations.
But don’t worry. “The Scientists” assure us, when that can be done, there will (somehow) be “STRICT OVERSIGHT.” From the AP story:
And lots more research is needed to tell if it’s really safe, added Britain’s [Robin] Lovell-Badge. He and [Johns Hopkins University bioethicist Jeffrey] Kahn were part of a National Academy of Sciences report earlier this year that said if germline editing ever were allowed, it should be only for serious diseases with no good alternatives and done with strict oversight.
Please! No more! When I laugh this hard it makes my stomach hurt.
Here’s the problem: Strict guidelines rarely are strict and they almost never offer permanent protection. They are ignored, unenforced, or stretched over time until they, essentially, cease to exist.
That’s awful with actions such as euthanasia. But we can’t let that kind of pretense rule the day with technologies that could prove to be among the most powerful and potentially destructive inventions in human history. Indeed, other than nuclear weapons, I can’t think of a technology with more destructive potential.
“Strict oversight” will have to include legal limitations and clear boundaries, enforced by stiff criminal penalties, civil remedies, and international protocols.
They won’t be easy to craft and it will take significant time to work through all of the scientific and ethical conundrums. But we haven’t yet made a beginning. If we wait until what may be able to be done actually can be done, it will be too late.
Photo: Genetically engineering mice, via Wikicommons.