The next year may represent our best chance to prevent the rise of a modern, uncontrolled and dangerously ill-considered techno-eugenics.
If new “gene editing” tools can be used to treat people who are sick, that would be a hugely welcome development. But applying them to human reproduction could all too easily open the door to a world of genetic haves and have-nots. Will it be possible for the distinction between responsible and irresponsible applications of human genetic technologies to hold, in policy and in practice? There is hope, but the signals from 2016 are very worrying.
One year ago, the U.S. National Academies Summit on Human Gene Editing ended with a consensus statement that proceeding with inheritable (germline) gene editing would be “irresponsible” until both the science was proven and there was “broad societal consensus about the appropriateness of the proposed application.”
It didn’t take long for that to seem wildly optimistic. Even before that announcement, and in complete secrecy, a rogue American scientist had defied authorities by using Mexican facilities to create a baby for a Jordanian couple using...