a gloved hand picking up a part of a DNA strand with forceps

Five years ago, on November 25, 2018, the world learned that a rogue Chinese scientist, He Jiankui, had created the first children whose DNA had been tailored using gene editing before they were born. They were twins, code-named “Lulu” and “Nana,” whose genomes were altered with CRISPR gene-editing technology in the hope of giving them some protection against HIV. 

Two days later, the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing opened in Hong Kong. Talk of the “CRISPR babies” dominated the proceedings. The hundreds of scientists gathered there were horrified by the news, some perhaps also because they had been scooped by an obscure junior researcher. 

The organizers of the Summit called the procedure irresponsible and complained that it failed to conform with international norms. Then, in the closing statement, they proposed developing a “translational pathway” to develop heritable human gene editing. In other words, they put themselves in charge of the very enterprise for which they had condemned He Jiankui.

In August 2019, The Progressive published an op-ed I wrote titled "Scientists Can’t Be Trusted on Gene Editing...