One of my colleagues at work recently shared a Time magazine article with me titled, “A scientist gets the green light to edit the human genome.” According to the article, this new method called CRISPR, “…is precise, efficient, affordable and perhaps most concerning to some, easy to use.”1

Just how easy? Editing a gene used to to take hundreds of hours, now with CRISPR it can be done in a couple of days with an hour’s worth of instruction. Bruce Conklin, a geneticist in San Francisco said, “Even more surprising was how easy the system was to use. To edit a gene, a scientist simply had to take a strand of guide RNA and include an ‘address’: a short string of letters corresponding to a particular location on the gene. The process was so straightforward, one scientist told me, that a grad student could master it in an hour, and produce an edited gene within a couple of days. In the past, it was a student’s entire Ph.D. thesis to change one gene…”2

The ease of such applications would suggest we not far off from actually editing human genes. And according to the Time magazine article, Jennifer Doudna, who has helped develop the CRISPR-Cas9 technique said,“Even as editing genes in human embryos remains a long way off, Doudna recognizes that it won’t always be.”3

Well, the long way off is here and happening now. On February 1st, researchers in London were given the go ahead to start experimenting on human embryos. Who gave them the nod? The Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority, (HFEA) approved the license. This is an organization that regulates and informs the public on fertility treatments. “Now, for the first time, a researcher has the green light to test this tool on viable human embryos.”4 They are not the first to do this. In 2015, Chinese researchers claimed to have already experimented on human embryos. I could not help but wonder who the watch dog would be for researchers in China?

From the various articles I have read on CRISPR-Cas9, there’s no doubt that as we begin to learn more about our genes and how they interact with each other, this technology has the potential to cure destructive diseases within our population. Yet should we be concerned? The Guardian reported that Dr. David King, director genetics watch dog organization said, “This is the first step in a well mapped-out process leading to GM [genetically modified] babies, and a future of consumer eugenics.” He claimed the government’s scientific advisers had already decided they were comfortable with the prospect of so-called “designer babies”.5

Can some good come of this? Has any good come of this? Certainly. Some disorders, names you may be familiar with such as Huntington’s disease and sickle-cell anemia, are caused by a single gene defect which suggest a great promise to future generations. Other diseases like cancer or Alzheimer’s have hundreds of genes that are affected, which greatly increase the opportunity of an unexpected outcome. Let me explain.

Humans carry genes that protects us from some illnesses, but those genes may increase our chances of getting other diseases. For example, researchers are exploring a protein called CCR5 that prevents H.I.V., but at the same time this would increase the possibility of our acquiring the West Nile virus. Another example is that some researchers think the sickle cell, which causes low healthy red blood cells count, may have evolved as a protection against malaria.6 In other words, cure sickle-cell, and open the door to malaria. Every action has a reaction, and as this technology develops, understanding the complete list of possible consequences would be impossible.

So here we have at our fingertips a new technology that will allow scientists to edit the human genome for for generations to come. Michael Specter shared this in the New Yorker magazine, “That raises the possibility, more realistically than ever before, that scientists will be able to rewrite the fundamental code of life, with consequences for future generations that we may never be able to anticipate.”7

In September of 2015, Jennifer Doudna gave a Ted talk on the development and use of CRISPR-CAS9. “We have to also consider that the Crisper technology can be used for things like enhancement. Imagine we could try to engineer humans that have enhanced properties such as stronger bones, less susceptibility to cardiovascular disease. Or even to have properties that we would maybe consider to be desirable, like different eye color, or to be taller, things like that. Designer humans if you will.”8 Designer humans? Is that like designer babies? Where did we hear that before?

All that aside, here is what caused me to sit up and take notice of this particular article my co-worker shared with me. Here is what drove me to take the time and blog on this specific topic. Because the focus of the research in London is on the earliest stages of human development, “the embryos will be destroyed after seven days…”

That bothers me, and it should bother you too. So someone might say they are not even human yet. One blogger shot back to a pro-lifer who took issue with the testing on ‘viable human embryos’, stated that at a week the embryo is only one hundred cells. He was correct, at 7 days the embryo totals about 100 cells and is called a ‘blastocyst’; how could that possibly be human?

My question is, how many cells would it take to constitute a human? There are roughly 37 trillion cells in the average human, so would it have to be above 35 trillion? 30 trillion? What about young children? They would have significantly less cells than the average adult male. One trillion cells? A billion, a million? Where do you draw the line? If you do draw a line, what is the difference between nine hundred and ninety nine thousand cells, and one million cells? It should be obvious that counting the number of cells is a frivolous way to determine if an individual is human or not. Size is not a determining factor on the viability or value of human life.

Another blogger pointed out you don’t even have a heart beat. If a heart beat is required to make someone human, why do we perform CPR on those who have had a heart attack? Why not just walk away stating they are no longer human. Obviously there is potential for life, and medical personal are trained to perform CPR and give drugs to get the heart beating again, because of the value of the life.

Just a couple weeks ago my son was on a call and he had to perform CPR on a man whose heart had stopped. Jed explained that he broke several ribs performing the chest compression’s, which is expected. In fact, if you are not breaking ribs or cartridge, you are not doing much good. You need a certain depth in the compression’s to do any good. They continued this for an hour in the hopes of resuscitating the heart. Why? Because of the potential for life.

Most hearts begin beating at 18 days after conception, just 11 days after those human embryos are destroyed. How about those with pacemakers? Are they some how ‘artificial humans’? How about brain activity? I know my wife has questioned the amount of brain activity I had at times, and if a measurable quantity of brain activity is required to make life valuable, I better stay out of my ‘nothing box’. Brain activity starts roughly 6 weeks after conception. Feeling pain? Approximately 20 weeks after conception. What about lepers? Is feeling pain a requirement for humanity? The list of objections stating why a 7 day old blastocyst is not human could be lengthy, but every single objections is satisfied over a period of days, weeks or months.

Scripture says we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Psalm 139:14 We are not a product of chance, time, evolution, and natural selection. Colossians 1:16 says, for Him and by Him all things were created. Genesis 1:27 says God created man in His own image.

Calum MacKellar, a researcher on bioethics said, “Whenever you do gene editing, you create a different person. What you are saying in a way is that certain people should not exist, and that other people should exist. When you go down that road, you hit the eugenics field.”9 Sound familiar? Making a decision on who should and who shouldn’t exist?

Editing the human genome has the potential to cure much of the suffering we see in our world today, but at what cost? Who pays the price? Others have said that a society is judged by the way it treats its most vulnerable citizens. Does the means justify the ends? Finally I would ask if anyone can give me an example of when it is OK to sacrifice innocent human beings for the benefit of others?

 

Nature knows no political boundaries. She puts living creatures on this globe and watches the free play of forces. She then confers the master’s right on her favorite child, the strongest in courage and industry … The stronger must dominate and not blend with the weaker, thus sacrificing his own greatness. Only the born weakling can view this as cruel. – Adolf Hitler

 

Sources:
1. London, Alice P. “A scientist gets the green light to edit the human genome.” Time February 2016: 9-10. Print.
2. Kahn, Jennifer. “The Crispr Quandary.” nytimes.com. New York Times, 9 November 2015. Web. 20 February 2016.
3. Ibid.
4. London, Alice P. “A scientist gets the green light to edit the human genome.” Time February 2016: 9-10. Print.
5. Siddique, Haroon. “British researchers get green light to genetically modify human embryos.” theguardian.com The Guardian, 1 February 2016. Web. 25 February 2016.
6. Specter, Michael. “The Gene Hackers.” newyorker.com The New Yorker, 16 November 2015. Web. 21 February 2016
7. Ibid
8. Doudna, Jennifer. “We can now edit our DNA. But let’s do it wisely.” TED. September 2015. Lecture.
9. London, Alice P. “A scientist gets the green light to edit the human genome.” Time February 2016: 9-10. Print.

 

 

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The sacrifice for science by James Glazier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at https://www.dev.christianapologetics.blog.

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