A recent article in the Biopolitical Times echoed the question asked elsewhere: Are the twin Chinese babies, born after being genetically engineered, healthy? It’s an important question, because the researcher who edited the DNA of the babies had little idea of the ramifications of his experiment. So far, nobody in China is providing any information about the state of those two girls.
It’s also an important question to the girls themselves. Did the Chinese government officials, who show no qualms about killing unborn children and oppressing their citizens for the good of the state, kill the edited girls? The concern about germline editing (or genome editing) is that the girls can reproduce and the genetic changes made by the researcher can be carried through future generations. Will the girls be forcibly sterilized so they can’t reproduce?
If the genetically engineered girls have not been destroyed, they will almost certainly be tested and subject to experiments throughout their lifetimes. That is the course of action that Biopolitical Times article implies we will need in order to understand just what happens when genes are altered with little idea of what effect it will have.
The researcher name He Jiankui had wanted to alter a gene to produce a particular mutation that is known to possibly generate resistance to HIV. He didn’t even succeed in producing the mutation in ANY of the many embryos he experimented on, and presumably destroyed with the exception of the twin girls who were born. He probably altered the brain functions of the girls, and nobody knows what effect that will have, good or bad. There’s a good possibility that influencing the intelligence of the girls was the secret purpose of the secret experiment that resulted in secret births, the consequences of which are still secret.
We have four fundamental problems here with genetic engineering of human embryos:
First, the persons who were edited at the embryonic stage cannot consent to the procedure, and we can’t ever judge whether they would have chosen to do so, even in the more “obvious” cases of removing genetic diseases or abnormalities.
Second, it is impossible to know what will happen when genetic engineering is performed on human embryos. It is not just extremely difficult, it is impossible. With the hundreds or even millions of possible combinations of genes, nuclear DNA mutations, mitochondrial DNA mutations, proteins, viruses and bacteria, etc., “improbable” seems like the best way to describe the predictability of genetic engineering at the embryonic stage.
Third, genetically engineered persons can never live in a state of peace or be content with their identity. They are, by definition, an experiment enacted by researchers or their parents. The interaction of genetic changes and the experience of life will always be very contingent on unpredictable factors.
Fourth, for a CRISPR gene engineering technology that costs about $75 to use, governments and society at large will never be able to regulate what researchers do or don’t do in their experiments. The potential for very perverted experimentation of human beings is high. We can’t prevent such results if we don’t ban this type of research altogether and regulate access to embryos that have already been created.
So here’s another question we should ask: could anyone who engages in research or therapies involving genetic engineering of human embryos be sane?
In other words, don’t just tell us if the Chinese twin babies are healthy … tell us if the researchers are. In the case of the Chinese twins, at least, we all know the disturbing answer.
Job announcement: Seeking a genetic engineering researcher for altering human embryos. Psychopaths and narcissists encouraged to apply.