Two young monkeys

Researchers at the Oregon National Primate Research Center recently announced the birth of four monkeys after a procedure that involved swapping the genetic material of one egg into another. An article in Nature and a conference call briefing with reporters resulted in dozens of news stories in outlets around the world. But few accurately captured the significance of the study or the way the researchers are promoting it.

Scientifically and ethically, the development breaks new ground and revisits well-worn terrain. The researchers insist they will move rapidly to test the method on humans - "maybe within two to three years" - even though that will still be too early for the monkeys to reproduce and thus reveal any inheritable adverse effects.

If the scientists follow through, they would raise serious questions about risks to the children born after such procedures, the difficulties and dangers of obtaining the large numbers of women's eggs that would be required, and the potentially dire social consequences of human genetic modification. The researchers' casual attitude toward these concerns is particularly alarming.

Understanding why scientists would...