Most Americans are now comfortable with the use of gene editing to improve a baby’s health, but believe applying the technology for the benefit of intelligence is unethical, a new study finds.
Gene editing’s first form was invented in the late 1900s, but recent technologies like CRISPR have made the technique far more precise and widely applied.
Yet, less than 20 percent of Americans believe that gene-editing will benefit the medical interests of most of us, instead seeing it as a technology to be utilized by the wealthy.
The technology has been hailed by some as the future of medicine, but when it comes to infants, Americans – particularly women and those who are religious – remain somewhat wary of its use.
Perceptions of gene editing vary widely, the new Pew Research Center study suggests, with most expressing concern over its effects on inequality and raising ethical questions.
The majority of Americans see preventing disease as an ‘appropriate’ use of gene editing technology, but remain wary of applying the technique to change other traits
For more than 100 years, scientists have known they have the capacity to change genetic make-up.
Now, the revolutionary CRISPR method of gene-editing could offer hope for treating diseases like cancer or even preventing them and ‘fixing’ genetic conditions and abnormalities.
But the technology to make these fundamental changes has developed and proliferated more quickly than an ethical code surrounding it has.
This has left those outside the scientific community with questions, concerns, and, often, too little information.
While media coverage of CRISPR and other technologies has exposed some to the benefits of gene-editing, both beliefs and history – including comparisons to Nazi-era eugenics – continue to engender skepticism from others.
The majority of Americans – 72 percent – are comfortable with the use of gene editing to alter disease-causing genetic traits in an unborn baby.
But we aren’t there yet. In fact, in 2015, when it was discovered that Chinese scientists had experimented with editing the genes of non-viable fetuses, much of the world responded in shock and horror.
Only one third of Americans see testing gene-editing on human embryos as ‘appropriate,’ according to the Pew research.
Americans, the new study found, seem most willing to embrace the technology if it guarantees a ‘fix’ for fault DNA. The percentage of people who believe gene editing is appropriate to prevent these diseases drops from 72 percent to 60 percent if the treatment will only reduce the risk of the disease.
And for the vast majority of adults, using DNA changes to enhance a trait, like intelligence, seems far more ethically questionable than does preventing problems, with just 19 percent saying improving genetic modifications to improve intellect are ‘appropriate.’
Various traits seem to predict how favorably Americans view gene editing for babies.
While 65 percent of men are okay with gene editing to reduce the risk that a baby will develop a serious disease down the line, about 10 percent fewer women say the same.
Religious beliefs, the study found, were a major predictor of attitudes toward gene-editing. More than half of those who were highly committed to a religion reported they believed that editing a baby’s genome was son uynethical use of the technology.
But the majority – 73 percent – of less religious people were comfortable iwth the technology’s use.