Elve8 – Rapid advances in genetic technologies could lead to a form of child “eugenics” and have serious implications for society, a leading fertility expert has warned.
Professor Lord Robert Winston said that current controls will not be able to keep pace, and people could want to modify their children to enhance desirable characteristics.
Last week the fertility watchdog advised the government to allow the creation of three-parent embryos, amid concerns about future genetically modified children. Top scientists and ethicists have warned about the potential to dehumanise and commodify relationships between children and parents.
Professor Winston gave the warning in a lecture at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh. Beforehand, he told the Scotsman newspaper that would use the lecture to highlight the dangers of “genetic meddling.”
“We may find that people will want to modify their children, enhance their intelligence, their strength and their beauty and all the other so-called desirable characteristics. That is going to become an increasing risk as a market. That will be a form of eugenics which will actually have all sorts of serious implications for developed societies.”
What exactly is human genetic engineering (HGE or HGM)? It’s a simple question with a complex answer.According to the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals (ARHP), HGM is a process by which scientists and medical professionals alter the genetic makeup, or DNA, in a living human cell. Ideally, HGM would be used to fix defective genes that cause diseases and other genetic complications.
In one method of altering the genes of living cells, scientists insert a new gene into a virus-like organism. This organism is then allowed to enter the cells and insert the new gene into the genome. Human genetic engineering uses two applications to do this: somatic and germline. It is important to note the distinction between these two applications.
Somatic engineering (from the Greek word “soma,” which means “body”) targets specific genes in specific organs and tissues without affecting the genes in the eggs or sperm (depending upon the gender of the person). The aim of this type of human genetic engineering is to treat or cure an existing condition. It does not alter the individual’s entire genetic makeup as a report for the Genetics and Public Policy Center explains.
The other type of human genetic engineering is germline, which targets the genes in eggs, sperm, or embryos in very early stages of development. This means that the genetic modifications that take place affect every cell created afterwards in the developing embryo’s body. Germline HGM also means that the modifications are passed on to all future generations if the individual goes on to have offspring. Obviously, germline HGM tends to be more controversial because the introduction of the gene alters future reproduction, whereas somatic HGM only affects the individual on which it is performed.
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