Most of us would no doubt change a few things about ourselves if we could. Clearer skin, taller, a better shaped nose. Many of us would even more likely wish to change our health disposition if we have a genetic predisposition to cancer, heart problems, or other diseases. Yet, how far would we go to actually achieve these changes? What about genetic modification of human beings? The concept of genetic modification or eugenics rubs a lot of people the wrong way, including within the scientific community. For many, it has a somewhat creepy undertone to it and echoes of the genetic experimentation so disturbingly carried out under the Hitler regime. Disturbing or not, this human genetic modification is already happening.
Reports reveal that the first genetically engineered babies have been ‘created’. 30 so-far healthy babies born as a result of a genetic alteration experiment represent a unique disturbance of natural human genetic information. The researchers were led by fertility pioneer Professor Jacques Cohen.
“Fifteen of the children were born in the past three years as a result of one experimental programme at the Institute for Reproductive Medicine and Science of St Barnabas in New Jersey.
The babies were born to women who had problems conceiving. Extra genes from a female donor were inserted into their eggs before they were fertilised in an attempt to enable them to conceive. Genetic fingerprint tests on two one-year- old children confirm that they have inherited DNA from three adults –two women and one man.”-Dailymail.co
Because these children have inherited the DNA into their own germline, they will pass this modification on to their own offspring. The women in the experiment wishing to conceive could not because of a genetic defect in the mitochondria of their own eggs. Portions of the egg cells of healthy women donors were inserted into the egg cells of the infertile women. Because mitochondria contains DNA, this injection incorporated the donor DNA into the DNA of the infertile women. The experiment successfully allowed the women to conceive. Although this experiment successfully allowed infertile couples to reproduce, the majority of the scientific community, including geneticists, strongly opposes this type of technology.
Lord Winston, of the Hammersmith Hospital in West London, told the BBC:
“Regarding the treat-ment of the infertile, there is no evidence that this technique is worth doing . . . I am very surprised that it was even carried out at this stage. It would certainly not be allowed in Britain.”
John Smeaton, national director of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said:
“One has tremendous sympathy for couples who suffer infertility problems. But this seems to be a further illustration of the fact that the whole process of in vitro fertilisation as a means of conceiving babies leads to babies being regarded as objects on a production line. It is a further and very worrying step down the wrong road for humanity.”
Cohen has also stated that his expertise in genetic modification would allow him to successfully clone a human child. “It would be an afternoon’s work for one of my students,” he said. A statement only further alarming and disturbing the scientific community and public alike. While the problem of infertility for many couples is real, one cannot help but question the future of such ‘experimentation’ and engineering. At some point there comes the consideration of the sanctity of human life, or at the very least the unknown future side effects of such genetic alteration on the human genome. At our fingertips we have a plethora of scientific research and debate about the negative effects of the genetic modification of crops and animals. Plenty of genetic modification experiments with animals and plants have gone wrong, and these species, ethical or not, are simply discarded. What about humans, though? The reality of genetic engineering on human beings may now pose an entirely new type of threat to us as a species.