CRISPR and the Ethical Dilemma of Human Genetic Modifications

By Juan Macias

Human. It is such a simple term to describe the people a person surrounds themselves with. Being human is having the ability to think on one’s own and pursue those thoughts with free will.  Being human is making mistakes and learning from them.  Being human is having distinct characteristics that set them apart from their peers.  In the mind, each person is different and imperfect, allowing each person to be their unique selves aside from just their physical aspects. At first glance, flaws are just part of genetics and are part of being human, but what if humans could adjust themselves to their pleasing and omit, or discard, perceived flaws?

Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats of genetic information, commonly referred to as CRISPR or Cas9, is a genetic engineering tool that allows humans to edit the gene sequences of DNA.  Being able to change gene sequences would give people the opportunity to modify the functions of their genes.  Depending on who you talk to, this new discovery may be the answer to the inherent flaws that lie within the human body, or a tool that will create very serious questions concerning ethics. 

In the first experimental stages of CRISPR in 2013, this gene modifier proved to provide a cure to diseases such as cystic fibrosis, cataracts, and fanconi anemia. This same technology has opened the doors for agricultural industries to tweak the gene sequences of their crops in order for them to survive different climates, last longer, and even provide higher yields.  This new tool has countless benefits that people can prosper from. People can live longer to live a long and fulfilling life without having to worry about the new wave of problems that will arise as we age.

As useful as this tool is, it has also sparked a complicated debate, with many people asking if this is ethical to alter a human’s genetics.  The CRISPR process has the potential to modify humans to fit specially requested features, or in other words, to create a genetically engineered baby. 

On November 25, 2018 He Jiankui released a statement that he had created a pair of twin girls – Lulu and Nana – using CRISPR.  Immediately, people began to criticize Jiankui, claiming his work was “horrifying,” “monstrous,” and “‘profoundly disturbing.”  Others saw the other side to what CRISPR can offer.  For many, CRISPR violates their beliefs in humanity and what it means to be human because they weren’t sure how accept these “humans” as people, or natural creations.

The world is changing, and people will change with it.  Change is a big part of being human because we learn to adapt to our environments in order to react accordingly. There is nothing abnormal with being afraid of change – fear is typically our first instinctual reaction to change.  However, people must decide if they encourage important change.  The change that CRISPR offers is potentially revolutionary for humanity.  Being human is being able to choose what we feel is right based on reasoned conclusions.  So, is CRISPR ethical?  That will be for all of humanity to decide.

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