He Jiankui, a Chinese scientist, made headlines last year when he and his team announced that they had created the world’s first genetically modified babies. He has been sentenced to three years in prison by a southern Chinese court and asked to pay a fine of $430,000. His colleagues were sentenced for less time and were asked to pay lesser fines.
The scientist announced that he used CRISPR, a gene-editing technique, on a human embryo to modify the genes of twin girls. He has said that his intentions behind the illegal experiment were good and that he wanted to help prevent HIV. However, the Shenzen court found the scientist and his colleagues guilty of banned medical practices. China has regulations based on ethical principles when it comes to genetical modifications.
Reportedly, three babies have been born from the gene-edited embryos. At first, the scientists had announced the creation of the embryos but did not acknowledge that an illegal pregnancy was initiated using said embryos. The scientists also do not carry any doctor’s credentials.
The court’s statement according to the South China Morning Post: “None of the three defendants acquired doctor’s qualifications. [They] craved fame and fortune and deliberately went against the country’s regulations on scientific research and medical management. [They] went beyond the bottom lines of scientific research and medical ethics.”
The Post also reports that the He Jiankui organized his team with foreign staff, and used sub-par technology with questionable safety to perform the gene-editing. He also did everything with the intention to avoid surveillance. A Nature Medicine study found out that the modifications that He made could make people more susceptible to other viruses such as West Nile and Influenza.
My personal take
I feel genetically modifying a human being is far out in the future. I love science and advancements in technology. We are not anywhere near the stage where we can modify a human embryo with positive intentions and accurately predict the side effects or the generational repercussions.
Gene-editing could help save thousands of lives more effectively than medication. One day. However, I do agree with the fact that we should not attempt something that we don’t know anything about, not for ethical/moral reasons, but for scientific reasons. We already take so many different types of medication, which very slowly changes our genes. Gene-editing, to me, is just a form of very advanced and potentially dangerous medication. Maybe 100 years into the future, but we definitely shouldn’t attempt such techniques on humans for a long long time.
What do you think about using advanced gene-editing techniques on humans? Do you think we should start now, later, or never at all due to ethical reasons? Let me know by sending an email to email@example.com, and I’ll feature the most unique opinion in our newsletter, What Just Happened.
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