Human embryo editing “meddling with Tree of Life”

Biologists in Oregon have edited the DNA of viable human embryos using the revolutionary genome-editing technique CRISPR-Cas9.

Their work went beyond previous experiments using CRISPR to alter the DNA of human embryos, all of which were conducted in China,as it edited the genomes of many more embryos and targeted a gene associated with a significant human disease.

The embryos were allowed to grow for only a few days and there was never any intention to implant.

Those involved with the research say they hope to improve their knowledge and ultimately aim be able to “correct” disease-causing genes in embryos that will develop into babies.

“This is the kind of research that is essential if we are to know if it’s possible to safely and precisely make corrections” in embryos’ DNA to repair disease-causing genes” says legal scholar and bioethicist R. Alta Charo.

“While there will be time for the public to decide if they want to get rid of regulatory obstacles to these studies, I do not find them inherently unethical.”

Elaine Dewar, who is an investigative journalist, takes the opposite view, finding the entire process unethical.

She wonders where the cherubim and sword God set to protect the Tree of Life have gone.

In her view scientists are “swarming all over the tree of life … grafting on new branches, meddling with the tree’s molecules.”

Catholic ethicists also warn the procedure is morally objectionable.

“Very young humans have been created in vitro and treated not as ends, but as mere means or research fodder to achieve particular investigative goals,” Fr. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, Director of Education for the The National Catholic Bioethics Center says.

In his view: “Their value as human beings is profoundly denigrated every time they are created, experimented upon, and then killed. Moreover, if such embryos were to grow up, as will doubtless occur in the future, there are likely to be unintended effects from modifying their genes.”



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