Eugenics

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American and Korean scientists published an article in nature announcing they successfully edited a single gene in human embryos. Lauran Neergaard reported at AP that“researchers safely repaired a disease-causing gene[MYBPC3] in human embryos, targeting a heart defect best known for killing young athletes – a big step toward one day preventing a list of inherited diseases… a research team led by Oregon Health & Science University reported that embryos can help fix themselves if scientists jump-start the process early enough…Previous embryo-editing attempts inChina found not every cell was repaired, a safety concern called mosaicism. Beginning the process before fertilization avoided that problem.”

 

Neergaard reported, “The team programmed a gene-editing tool, named CRISPR-Cas9, that acts like a pair of molecular scissors to find that mutation – a missing piece of genetic material… Researchers injected sperm from a patient with the heart condition along with those molecular scissors into healthy donated eggs at the same time. The scissors cut the defective DNA in the sperm. Normally cells will repair a CRISPR-induced cut in DNA by essentially gluing the ends back together. Or scientists can try delivering the missing DNA in a repair package, like a computer cut-and-paste program. Instead, the newly forming embryos made their own perfect fix without that outside help, reported Oregon Health & Science University senior researcherShoukhrat Mitalipov.” Neergaard continued, “It worked 72% of the time, in 42 out of 58 embryos. Normally a sick parent has a 50-50 chance of passing on the mutation.”Mitalipov, stated, “Every generation on would carry this repair because we’ve removed the disease-causing gene variant from that family’s lineage. By using this technique, it’s possible to reduce the burden of this heritable disease on the family and eventually the human population.”Mitalipov also stated that until now, “everybody was inject-ing too late.” According to Neergaard, the researchers stated that “intense testing [did not] uncover any ‘off-target’errors [or] cuts to DNA in the wrong places…The embryos weren’t allowed to develop beyond eight cells, a standard for laboratory research. The experiments were privately funded; US tax dollars aren’t allowed for embryo research.”

 

Victoria Aitken reported at the Daily Mail, “It has the potential to revolutionize medicine and could lead to the eradication of inherited diseases such as cystic fibrosis and breast cancer. Campaigners warned however that it might also open the door to ‘superior designer babies’ with genes modified to improve physical appearance, strength or even intelligence.” Dr. David King of Human Genetics Alert stated, “What concerns me most is that we will start making babies order, and then expecting them to perform according to the way we have genetically designed them…That is because the nuclear DNA at the heart of a cell, which these scientists tweaked, also determines personal characteristics.This raises the prospect of genetically engineered‘superheroes’ made to be more athletic or extra intelligent at the request of parents…But the researchers have edited only a single gene so far, using a technique which has still to be proven to work in babies rather than just embryos.”

 

Neergard said,”’ germline’ changes – altering sperm, eggs, or embryos – are controversial because they would be permanent, passed down to future generations.” She noted that “genetics and ethics experts not involved in the work say it’s a critical first step – but just one step – toward eventually testing the process in pregnancy, something currently prohibited by US policy. “This is very elegant lab work, but it’s moving so fast that society needs to catch up and debate how far it should go,” said Johns Hop-kins University bioethicist Jeffrey Kahn. And lots more research is needed to tell if it’s really safe, added Britain’sRobin Lovell-Badge. He and Kahn were part of a NationalAcademy 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. “What we do not want is for rogue clinicians to start offering treatments” that are unproven…Among key questions: Would the technique work if mom,not dad, harbored the mutation? Is repair even possible if both parents pass on a bad gene? …Mitalipov said the research should offer critics some reassurance: If embryos prefer self-repair, it would be extremely hard to add traits for ‘designer babies’ rather than just eliminate disease,“All we did is un-modify the already mutated gene.”

 

Sciencenews.org reported on 7/5/17 that genes associated with the coronary artery disease are also linked to fertility, as well as fetal development and survival. “A June 22ndreport in PLOS Genetics showed a genetic connection between reproduction and heart disease. The Scien-cenews.org article concluded, “This study may be a warning for gene therapy since it suggests there are many genetic connections between different bodily functions that scientists don’t yet understand…If scientists want to treat coronary artery disease by editing a person’s DNA, it is important to know what other traits might be affected. The new findings also raise questions about the various functions of other disease-related genes…For instance, a future study could examine whether genes associated with cancer have any hidden evolutionary benefits.” Sciencenews.orgalso reported on 7/20/17 that resistance to CRISPR gene drives occurred at high rates in experiments with fruit flies.

 

Michael Cook commented at Bioedge.org 8/5/17, “For others, creating and destroying human embryos for research is itself anathema. In this experiment, dozens of embryos were created, and all were destroyed before they had grown beyond a few days. But everyone recognized the potential for a new generation of eugenics, which has long been under the shadow of the Nazis’ discredited ideology. David Albert Jones, of the UK’s Anscombe Institute, penned a withering critique, Unethical research with eugenic goals. “The whole rationale for this experiment is to take a step towards genetic modification as assisted reproductive technology. We are manufacturing new human beings for manipulation and quality control, and experimenting on them with the aim of forging greater eugenic control over human reproduction. This is not a case of using bad means for a good end, but of bad means to a worse end.”

 

Wesley Smith questioned at LifeNews.com on 7/27/17“So are we going to just watch, slack-jawed, the double-time march to Brave New World unfold before our eyes? Or are we going to engage democratic deliberation to determine if this should be done, and if so, what the parameters are? …Mr. President: We need a presidential bioethics/biotechnology commission now!”

Michael Cook, editor of MercatorNet.com, published an article on 2/22/17 concerning the breakdown of the public’s trust of the science/research community. The Na-tional Academy of Sciences and the National Academyof Medicine recently released a report entitled “HumanGenome Editing: Science, Ethics, and Governance”.Cook states that “the central question it poses is whethereugenics is safe and ethical. Its answer is that eugenicswould be ethical if it were safe. This is oversimplifyingthe tentative prose of this dense 300-page report, ofcourse, but not greatly.”Cook acknowledges that “there is an urgency to thesequestions. A technique has been found which can modifythe human genome quickly and efficiently. Called CRIS-PR/Cas9, it allows scientists to snip strands of DNA, re-moving some genes and inserting others. The opportuni-ties and the dangers are immense. If it is confined to non-reproductive cells, it can be used to develop therapiesand cure diseases. Curing ailments in utero is particularly promising.“But it will also be possible to modify the humangermline cells, of the eggs and sperm or the resultingembryo so that genetic changes can be passed on to fu-ture generations. If this happens, society could be re-lieved from the burden of genetic diseases; parents willbe able to design their offspring; and the dreams of trans-humanists will start to unfold. In plain language, this iscalled eugenics.”The authors of the report admit that it will be hard to stopthe spread of ‘do-it-yourself’ eugenics in the UnitedStates. The authors stated, “Access to germline genomeediting would be consistent with the broadest legal andcultural interpretations of parental autonomy rights in theUnited States…Precluding access to this technologycould be regarded as limiting parental autonomy, de-pending upon the country and the culture. Indeed, somepeople feel they have a religious or historical mandate tohave genetically related children.”On February 18th, the Economist ran an article (Leaderssection, “Sex and Science”) about the report and stated,“Happy parents and healthy children make a pretty goodrule for thinking about any reproductive technology. Aprocedure’s safety is the central concern. Proving this isa high hurdle. Researchers are, wrongly in the eyes ofsome, allowed to experiment on human embryos whenthey consist of just a few cells…Defining the limits ofwhat should be allowed is more slippery. But again, thetest of happy parents and healthy children is the rightone. Growing sperm and eggs from body cells is surelythe least problematic new technique soon to be on of-fer…But the law should insist that two people be in-volved. If one person tried to be both father and motherto a child, the resulting eggs and sperm would, withoutrecourse to wholesale gene editing, combine to concen-trate harmful mutations in what would amount to theultimate form of inbreeding…The first gene editing willeliminate genetic diseases in a way that now requiresembryo selection – an advance many would applaud.Adults should be able to clone perfect copies of themselves, as an aspect of self-determination. But breedingbabies with new traits and cloning other people raisesquestions of equality and whether it is ever right to useother people’s tissues without their consent. The ques-tions will be legion. Should bereaved parents be able toclone a lost child? Or a widow her departed husband?Should the wealthy be able to pay for their children tobe intelligent and diligent, if nobody else can afford todo so? Commissions of experts will need to search foranswers; and courts will need to apply the rules – toprotect the interests of the unborn. They will be able todraw on precedents, such as identical twins, where soci-ety copes with clones perfectly well, or ‘savior sib-lings’, selected using IVF to provide stem cells that cancure a critically ill older brother or sister. Any regimemust be adaptable, because opinions change as peopleget used to new techniques. Going by the past, though,the risk is not of people rushing headlong to the repro-ductive extremes, but of holding back, and leaving peo-ple to suffer out of a misplaced sense of what feelsright.”Cook stated that it was only a little over a year ago thatthe National Academy of Science held a summit andconcluded it would be “irresponsible to proceed withany clinical use of germline editing [until it was safeand] there is a broad societal consensus.” Cook went onto say that even though these conditions have not beenmet the latest report recommended that “with stringentoversight, heritable germline editing clinical trials couldone day be permitted for serious conditions. He notesthat even though the report sounded cautious, its ethicsare clear – “there is nothing intrinsically wrong witheugenics, provided it is safe and legal.”The [National Academy] report suggests that the gov-ernment needs to launch a public engagement programto overcome the public’s resistance. Cook concluded,“this sounds suspiciously like what used to be calledpropaganda… [and was used successfully in the UK] topermit the creation of human-animal embryos and three-parent embryos…It is projects like this expensive exer-cise in justifying eugenics which widen the gap betweenthe science community and the public. They strengthenthe view that scientists regard ethics merely as an obsta-cle to progress. And that’s not what most Americansbelieve.”Michael Cook, editor of MercatorNet.com, published anarticle on 2/22/17 concerning the breakdown of the pub-lic’s trust of the science/research community. The Na-tional Academy of Sciences and the National Academyof Medicine recently released a report entitled “HumanGenome Editing: Science, Ethics, and Governance”.Cook states that “the central question it poses is whethereugenics is safe and ethical. Its answer is that eugenicswould be ethical if it were safe. This is oversimplifyingthe tentative prose of this dense 300-page report, ofcourse, but not greatly.”Cook acknowledges that “there is an urgency to thesequestions. A technique has been found which can modifythe human genome quickly and efficiently. Called CRIS-PR/Cas9, it allows scientists to snip strands of DNA, re-moving some genes and inserting others. The opportuni-ties and the dangers are immense. If it is confined to non-reproductive cells, it can be used to develop therapiesand cure diseases. Curing ailments in utero is particularlypromising.“But it will also be possible to modify the humangermline cells, of the eggs and sperm or the resultingembryo so that genetic changes can be passed on to fu-ture generations. If this happens, society could be re-lieved from the burden of genetic diseases; parents willbe able to design their offspring; and the dreams of trans-humanists will start to unfold. In plain language, this iscalled eugenics.”The authors of the report admit that it will be hard to stopthe spread of ‘do-it-yourself’ eugenics in the UnitedStates. The authors stated, “Access to germline genomeediting would be consistent with the broadest legal andcultural interpretations of parental autonomy rights in theUnited States…Precluding access to this technologycould be regarded as limiting parental autonomy, de-pending upon the country and the culture. Indeed, somepeople feel they have a religious or historical mandate tohave genetically related children.”On February 18th, the Economist ran an article (Leaderssection, “Sex and Science”) about the report and stated,“Happy parents and healthy children make a pretty goodrule for thinking about any reproductive technology. Aprocedure’s safety is the central concern. Proving this isa high hurdle. Researchers are, wrongly in the eyes ofsome, allowed to experiment on human embryos whenthey consist of just a few cells…Defining the limits ofwhat should be allowed is more slippery. But again, thetest of happy parents and healthy children is the rightone. Growing sperm and eggs from body cells is surelythe least problematic new technique soon to be on of-fer…But the law should insist that two people be in-volved. If one person tried to be both father and motherto a child, the resulting eggs and sperm would, withoutrecourse to wholesale gene editing, combine to concen-trate harmful mutations in what would amount to theultimate form of inbreeding…The first gene editing willeliminate genetic diseases in a way that now requiresembryo selection – an advance many would applaud.Adults should be able to clone perfect copies of them-selves, as an aspect of self-determination. But breedingbabies with new traits and cloning other people raisesquestions of equality and whether it is ever right to useother people’s tissues without their consent. The ques-tions will be legion. Should bereaved parents be able toclone a lost child? Or a widow her departed husband?Should the wealthy be able to pay for their children to be intelligent and diligent, if nobody else can afford to do so? Commissions of experts will need to search for answers; and courts will need to apply the rules – to protect the interests of the unborn. They will be able to draw on precedents, such as identical twins, where society copes with clones perfectly well, or ‘savior siblings’, selected using IVF to provide stem cells that can cure a critically ill older brother or sister. Any regime must be adaptable, because opinions change as people get used to new techniques. Going by the past, though,the risk is not of people rushing headlong to the reproductive extremes, but of holding back, and leaving people to suffer out of a misplaced sense of what feels right.”Cook stated that it was only a little over a year ago that the National Academy of Science held a summit and concluded it would be “irresponsible to proceed with any clinical use of germ line editing [until it was safe and] there is a broad societal consensus.” Cook went onto say that even though these conditions have not been met the latest report recommended that “with stringent oversight, heritable germline editing clinical trials could one day be permitted for serious conditions. He notes that even though the report sounded cautious, its ethics are clear – “there is nothing intrinsically wrong with eugenics, provided it is safe and legal.”The [National Academy] report suggests that the government needs to launch a public engagement program to overcome the public’s resistance. Cook concluded,“this sounds suspiciously like what used to be called propaganda… [and was used successfully in the UK] to permit the creation of human-animal embryos and three-parent embryos…It is projects like this expensive exercise in justifying eugenics which widen the gap between the science community and the public. They strengthen the view that scientists regard ethics merely as an obstacle to progress. And that’s not what most Americans believe.” 

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