Five young children are sitting on grass, smiling.

Now that we have the power to permanently alter humanity, should we?

This was the question at the heart of the International Summit on Human Gene Editing in Washington, D.C., last week, an event co-hosted by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and of Medicine, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the U.K.’s Royal Society. For three days, hundreds of scientists, scholars, and public interest advocates (and thousands others online and at #GeneEditSummit) discussed the scientific, social, ethical, and legal considerations posed by the prospect of making alterations to the human genetic code.

The summit was set in motion with the advent of a new gene-editing technology known as CRISPR. The technique was discovered just three years ago, more than a decade after other gene-editing technologies. Unlike previous methods, CRISPR is cheap and easy to use, and caused an explosion in research and interest. The U.S. National Institute of Health invested more than $80 million in CRISPR in 2014, and nearly 600 papers about the new technique were published by the end of that year.

All of the potential...