If you've been following my bogs this week, you've noticed I've been talking about a lot of "genetic" things, not so much because I have a "theme," but because these were the primary focus of articles that people were sending me. But that doesn't mean that there was not a purpose or "argument" that I had in mind. In fact, today's blog and articles were more or less where I was headed all week, but it was necessary to talk about the other articles about CRISPR dangers, epigenetics, and retroviruses first, before tackling today's subject. In a nutshell, an "ethics body" in the UK has ok'ed the go-ahead for genetically modified babies, according to these articles shared by Ms. S.H. and Mr. V.T., respectively:
As one can imagine, I have a problem with "ethics panels", particularly of "experts". I don't believe in ethics, I believe in morals. I don't believe in values, I believe in virtues and vices, and given what I've seen coming out of "big science" lately, I'm beginning to reevaulate my stance toward "scientific progress."
But my personal convictions aside, for a moment, I want to focus on the second of these articles, the UK's The Guardian presentation of all of this:
The Nuffield Council on Bioethics said that changing the DNA of a human embryo could be “morally permissible” if it was in the future child’s interests and did not add to the kinds of inequalities that already divide society.
The report does not call for a change in UK law to permit genetically altered babies, but instead urges research into the safety and effectiveness of the approach, its societal impact, and a widespread debate of its implications.
“It is our view that genome editing is not morally unacceptable in itself,” said Karen Yeung, chair of the Nuffield working group and professor of law, ethics and informatics at the University of Birmingham. “There is no reason to rule it out in principle.”
Recent advances in genetic technology have given scientists the tools to rewrite the DNA bound up in living cells, letter by letter. With the procedures in hand, scientists can in principle tweak the genetic code in sperm, eggs and embryos, and change dramatically how future children develop.
While laws in the UK and some other countries currently ban the creation of genetically altered babies, a handful of experiments around the world have shown that DNA editing could, in principle, prevent children from inheriting serious diseases caused by faulty genes.
Another consideration is that any changes made to an embryo’s DNA would affect all of its cells, including the sperm or eggs, meaning that genetic modifications would be passed down to all future generations. Also, in the vast majority of cases alternative procedures, such as preimplantation genetic testing, can be used to screen embryos for harmful DNA.
DNA editing also raises the possibility of “designer babies”, where the genetic code of embryos created through standard IVF is rewritten so that children have traits the parents find desirable. The Nuffield report does not rule out any specific uses of genome editing, but says that to be ethical, any applications must follow the principles of being in the child’s interests, and have no ill-effects for society.
This, as one can tell, is pretty much the standard "boiler plate" for such articles: the virtue signaling of "social concern" and the usual "concern for the child" which, coming from certain quarters these days, I'm inherently skeptical of to begin with. Then this is followed by the elaboration of the "social concern" part of the virtue signaling, that we must guard against the genetic haves and have nots sowing the usual social discord. Reading between the lines a bit, that means we must "level the genetic modification access playing field," and that of course means more socialist programs to make sure everyone has a fair crack at all that wonderful CRISPR gene-editting technology; step right up, get your state approved modified baby here. Then this is followed by more boiler plate about "designer babies" and a very brief bow to what may be a huge lurking scientific problem, that modifications may be passed down through that "modified baby's" offspring.
It's that "brief bow" that concerns me, beyond my inherent disgust at those willing to play God and tinker with the very stuff of life itself, be it vaccines, genetic therapies, GMOs, or what have you. In the blogs earlier this week, in the past two days, I've pointed out the fundamental flaw in western science has always been its analytical hubris, and corresponding inattention to how systems interact. While this gap has been closing, it certainly is not completely closed. After all, the "analysts" have had about a 500 year head start on the "integreationists" or "synthesists", i.e., those who think the whole interactive system itself is more than the sum of its parts, and contributes to the overall efficiency of a system or organism. In genetics this basic idea - to oversimplify - is epigenetics, but whatever one calls it, the synthesists are pointing out that modifications to a part can effect the whole, and those modifications can result in unpredictable adjustments by the system, including (as we saw yesterday), the creation of transgenic chimerical viruses, entirely unintentionally (or so they say), simply from a system that itself is poorly designed and not understood very well.
And those effects could potentially be inherited.
So now a committee of "ethics experts" has determined it's ok to go ahead an genetically modify a human being, if it's in that individual's best interest (doubtless to be determined by panels of ethics experts in the National Health system, think of Charlie Gard, folks). One can think of all sorts of nightmarish scenarios: a panel of "experts" deciding that you'd be better off being the opposite sex, or better off being a host for growing various organs or body parts, and so on. I suspect we're all familiar with "the political and cultural nightmarish scenarios", so I feel no need to rehearse them further. They're definitely there, and I trust panels of ethics experts just about as much as I trust non-aggression pacts signed by Adolf Hitler.
What concerns me is that no one is raising those epigenetic potentialities of unintended damage to the whole "ecosystem" of human genetics, by intended "good meddling" in an infant's DNA, that may, like the recent CRISPR studies, show to have some potentially very bad consequences.
But it's ok... the panels of experts and scientists have waved their magic wands and said everything's ok, because they've all imbibed their daily dose of bubbling potions of "concern."
See you on the flip side...