What do we want to become?
I missed the news last week that China had confirmed
the doctor who claimed to have edited the genes of two babies at the embryo stage was telling the truth.
He Jiankui claims his work has given the children resistance to HIV, although how you’d test that ethically, I don’t know. The children have been given anonymity to avoid them receiving unwanted attention. But even though China – like most other governments right now – seems averse to encouraging gene editing, the simplicity and low cost of ‘CRISPR’ means it will happen soon enough, whether it’s legal or not.
Some worry about only the rich having access to gene editing, thus being able to maintain their status above the poor by being stronger and smarter. But there’s no reason not to imagine that – like any technology – the price will come down quickly.
And while some may have dreams of improving the human race by wiping out diseases, the technology could just as easily be used for sinister Nazi-inspired eugenics programmes.
And either way, we just don’t know enough about the longterm health implications of gene editing to race into it. Make a 'superhuman’ today, and 50 years down the line they might have all sorts of health problems we’ve never seen before.
But let’s face it; if the technology is there, people are going to use it.
Just at a point when humanity’s longterm future is hanging in the balance due to climate change, we stand on the cusp of changing humanity itself.
We, as a species, need to have a serious conversation about what we want our future generations to be – if we want to save them at all.