Op-Ed

A scientist holds a pipette and inserts blue liquid into test tube. The test tube is resting in the middle among many other empty test tubes on a rack.

Should powerful new molecular engineering techniques be used to create genetically modified children? This is the question – literally, about the future of humanity – that’s been put on the near horizon by rapidly developing technology. Hundreds of people from around the world are convening this week at an “international summit on human gene editing” hosted by the U.S. National Academies of Sciences and Medicine here in Washington, DC to grapple with this profoundly consequential issue.

This conversation about human germline modification – that is, changing the genes we pass down to future generations – has engaged scholars, policy makers, writers, and filmmakers for at least several decades, but most often in small circles with privileged information or among those with a science fiction imagination. Many, perhaps most, who have contemplated the temptation to “improve” our offspring have concluded that it would be deeply unwise.

Among their concerns: Why should anyone have the right to deliberately and irreversibly engineer the biology of generations to come? What assumptions would guide any choice of “good” genes to insert or “bad” genes to...