"Genetically Altered Embryo" Not as Big a Deal as Advertised
The story of the first supposedly genetically altered human embryo is making headlines around the world. From the story:
The study appears to be the first report of genetically modifying a human embryo. It was presented last fall at a meeting of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, but didn't draw widespread public attention then. The result was reported over the weekend by The Sunday Times of London, which said British authorities highlighted the work in a recent report.In my view, this isn't quite as big a deal as reporters are making out. First, the embryo was never viable in the first place because it was genetically defective. Nor was it created for the purpose of destroying it--which is the agenda of cloning research, the essential technology for learning how to genetically engineer the human race. Moreover, animal work has already demonstrated that mammalian life can be genetically altered.
Rosenwaks and colleagues did the work with an embryo that had extra chromosomes, making it nonviable. Following a standard procedure used in animals, they inserted a gene that acts as a marker that can be easily followed over time. The embryo cells took up the gene, he said.
The goal was to see if a gene introduced into an abnormal embryo could be traced in stem cells that are harvested from the embryo, he said. Such work could help shed light on why abnormal embryos fail to develop, he said. No stem cells were recovered from the human embryo, said Rosenwaks, noting that abnormal embryos frequently don't develop well enough to produce them.
Don't get me wrong: I don't like it. I oppose treating human life, even if it is ultimately nonviable, as a mere instrumentality. But it doesn't really move the ball toward human genetic enhancement forward. To do that, as I noted, will require massive quantities of cloned embryos to learn how the genes express, why, and their mutual interrelationships--a monumental task given the sheer complexity of human development.
But this quote from a defender is, overall, hokum:
But an author of the study says the work was focused on stem cells. He notes that the researchers used an abnormal embryo that could never have developed into a baby anyway. "None of us wants to make designer babies," said Dr. Zev Rosenwaks, director of the Center for Reproductive Medicine and Infertility at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center.He should speak for himself. There are plenty of people biting at the bit to genetically engineer embryos, and a cadre of bioethicists and lawyers already laying down the intellectual foundation to create a constitutional right to do it. If human cloning can ever be done reliably--a big if--an increasing number of advocates and media will urge the right to genetically engineer, first for health and later for enhancement, based on a supposed absolute right to procreate and to create the baby you want. That is the trajectory they are on, and all you have to do is read the books and bioethics articles already in print to verify it.
But that's okay. Nobody died and made them monarchs. There are plenty of us with the energetic intent to short circuit their plans.
Labels: Human Genetic Engineering