In 2001 it was reported that up to 30 children were born who had been genetically altered. It was a minimal alteration. Researchers replaced women’s defective mitochondria in their eggs, the cause of infertility, with healthy mitochondria from other women. The modified eggs were fertilized in vitro (IVF) and implanted in the infertile mothers’ wombs. It was confirmed that the children, all healthy, have mitochondria, hence genes, from two mothers.
Since then there has been much debate about the ethics of producing genetically-modified children. Proponents argue that further developments can benefit the entire human race. If the genes that cause defects are replaced with healthy genes, then the human genome will eventually be rid of such defects. Opponents warn that the human genome is not understood well enough to predict how genetic modifications will affect future generations. They say that further experimentation amounts to experimenting on babies unable to give consent, and that it is a slippery slope leading to eugenics.
One might hope that the opponents win the public debate. After all, most genetic mutations are harmful, evolutionary science tells us that much. And what does society do with the unwanted children deemed bad experiments? Kill them? Store them?
However, the opponents really aren’t against treating children like subjects without their consent. They support ridding the population of genetic defects through prenatal genetic testing and abortion, which means they don’t want anyone giving birth to the unwanted. That is eugenics. What they oppose is mixing up the genome for future generations, but it’s a double standard. They’ve already slid down their slope. How can you claim to care about the human genome when you don’t care about all human life?
This month it was reported that a baby has been born, the result of a next generation gene sequencing experiment. During IVF treatment, the genes of embryos were sequenced and certain ones selected for life. They say it was only about health, but once researchers know the genetic makeup, they can try to genetically engineer and select for traits such as eye color, height, athletic ability, and intelligence too. Why not? Women and men already sell their eggs and sperm, marketed on desirable traits. People already treat children like designer commodities.
If — more like when — this happens, it is an abyss of no return. The human genome is changed forever, there’s no going back. The children of genetically-modified children can genetically modify their children, and before long children won’t just wonder who their parents and grandparents are, they won’t even know how many they have.