“Science is one thing, wisdom is another. Science is an edged tool with which men play like children, and cut their own fingers.”–Sir Arthur Eddington
The Associated Press ran a story today headlined in our paper, “Britain Approves Gene-Editing Work on Human Embryos.” The lead paragraph: “In a landmark decision that some ethicists warned is a step down the path towards ‘designer babies,’ Britain gave scientists approval Monday to conduct gene-editing experiments on human embryos.”
Further on, it explains the process: “Gene-editing involves deleting, repairing or replacing bits of DNA inside living cells in a biological cut-and-paste technique that scientists say could one day lead to treatment for conditions like HIV or inherited disorders such as muscular dystrophy and sickle cell disease.” The fact is “gene-editing” is a new, presumably less ominous, term for “genetic engineering,” and the possibilities go far beyond “designer babies” and treatment for a few diseases.
One of my recent novels, Lucifer’s Promise, explores those possibilities. Every one of the genetic concepts treated in the novel, up to and including a sort of human immortality, is the subject of scientific speculation and research today.
Scientists worldwide downplay the impact of genetics while constantly pushing the envelope of humankind’s genetic code. The AP story goes on to touch on the objections of secular and religious critics–the “slippery slope” (what comes after designer children and a cure for sickle cell), the obvious gap in benefits to rich and poor, the inevitable unforeseen consequences, and “playing God.” All these issues are addressed in Lucifer–in fact, the prevention of sickle cell is one of the story lines. When it was published early last year, authorities in Great Britain denied that such experiments would be allowed. Now they sanction them. The direction, as always, is clear.