Gene Editing: An author Interview
Why did you write Perfect Child?
“I have always enjoyed reading mysteries. I admire writers like John Sandford, Michael Connelly and Robert Crais. When I started working in biotechnology, I was struck by the amazing power of the science, the capacity to use it for good, and the ethical dilemmas it presented. This was the stuff of good stories.”
Why write about gene editing?
"Because it's fast becoming a reality, and will certainly change the future of the human race. Our genes have been "edited," by the environment and other factors, since the dawn of mankind. We have now reached the point where we can do so deliberately. Give a monkey a hammer, and the world looks like a nail. And there are a lot of gene editing monkeys out there right now."
Should we be editing genes in human beings?
“As a doctor, my mission has been to make life better for people—to alleviate human suffering. If we can edit genes to prevent cancer, or to increase resistance to disease, who wouldn’t choose that option? The problem is, it’s a slippery slope. Once you start editing genes, when do you stop. Would you choose to make a child taller, better looking or more intelligent? In addition, we know almost nothing about the long-term safety of these potential genetic modifications. Some problems might not be apparent for years, and possibly for generations. So the answer is, maybe someday. Right now, we aren't ready."
In your book, you mention sex selection, choosing to have a male or female child, and you say this isn't ethical. Why?
“This is a hot topic. Many couples want to choose the sex of their child. You can’t really blame people for having their preference, but there are few situations in which actually determining the sex of child is ethical—for example, when there is a known sex-linked genetic disorder that would likely be inherited by a child.
“There are far more reasons why determining the sex of a child, through any method, should be considered unethical. For patients undergoing IVF, and pre-natal genomic diagnosis (PGD) let’s get beyond the issue of discarding the unwanted embryos, which raises ethical issues in and of itself. And also, let’s not consider that fact that performing these procedures unnecessarily wastes medical resources.
“Simply determining the sex of a child is, in essence, discriminatory. In addition, any significant trend toward increasing the number children of a given sex, over time, will skew the natural sex ratio, resulting in gender imbalance. Over the long-run, this would result in significant societal problems. The world, has always had a fundamental balance between the number of men and women. Changing that balance is not in the best interest of society.
"If and when IVF and PGD drop in price, how will reproductive gynecologists react to the pressure that will likely be brought by prospective parents? Only time will tell.”
You reference germ line DNA. What is germ line DNA?
Germ line DNA is the DNA passed on to the next generation through the parent’s sperm and egg. Genetic changes early in life would most likely be passed on. Changes in DNA can occur from generation-to-generation for other reasons—for example mutation in the genes, exposure to radiation, etc.
How close are we to being able to do gene editing, of the type you describe in your book?
Closer than you might think.