By guest author Chris Reilly — Human genetic engineering may become the new “space race,” if Vladimir Putin has his way. But experiments on humans at the embryonic stage have profound implications, not only on society but also on the dignity of the humans who are used and destroyed on a massive scale.
Genetic engineering, whose main stated purpose is to treat and cure disease, abuses and kills untold numbers of human beings at the embryonic stage. Mistakes in genetic engineering are almost guaranteed, and making these mistakes in human embryos (unlike the “somatic” genetic editing performed on adults) can affect generations of descendants. Regardless of its stated purpose, the genetic editing of embryos greatly disrespects the inherent, sacred dignity of each human person from the moment they are created.
Russian scientist Denis Rebrikov, a biochemist who is also rector of a prestigious Russian institute, doesn’t appear to care. He is plowing forward with experiments on human beings that make one’s skin crawl. At least that’s the opinion of most of the scientific community.
What the scientific community isn’t telling us, though, is that Rebrikov is only the most prominent and egregious example of the reckless motivations driving the genetic engineering of human embryos.
Rebrikov claims to be merely advancing scientific knowledge. He says that his research will provide information on how to eventually alter the genes of the pre-born children of deaf parents so they can hear.
But following Rebrikov’s logic is like wading through a murky swamp. He claims he wants to be the savior of children born in Russia each year with the GJB2 mutation … all 10 of them. Then, he broadens his declared scope to “off-target” mutations, which are the unintended effects that can be caused by tampering with the genetic makeup of human embryos. Interestingly, studying how to reduce or predict such “off-target” mutations, by performing more experiments on humans at the embryonic stage, would be financially lucrative for Rebrikov.
Unfortunately for the scientific community, though, Rebrikov has been a public embarrassment. He has already stated that he intends to “create” born humans that he has genetically edited in the lab. Under pressure, the Russian government is delaying any such experiment—for the time being.
What you don’t hear from the scientific community is that, without the often vague and tentative regulations in place at universities and in governments, thousands of researchers are itching to follow in Rebrikov’s reckless and unethical footsteps.
According to Bloomberg, the future of genetically modified humans may lie in Vladimir Putin’s hands. A group of scientists who support Rebrikov’s efforts to boost Russia’s national influence have apparently lobbied Putin’s daughter, Maria Vorontsova, an endocrinologist whose views on bioethics “are becoming increasingly influential.” Putin has shown much interest in boosting genetic engineering research in Russia, with an eye on military uses.
Bloomberg says of Putin:
“[He] has made it increasingly clear in recent years that he expects genetic engineering’s eventual impact on society to be as great as or even greater than artificial intelligence—in ways both good and bad. In 2017, he predicted ‘people’ would start editing pre-birth human DNA ‘very soon,’ a development with possible military applications that he’s warned could be ‘more terrible than a nuclear bomb.’”
Last year, Putin allocated about $2 billion for genetic research and named Vorontsova to the panel overseeing the research. Putin has said genetic engineering will “determine the future of the whole world.”
The impact of human genetic engineering
What you also don’t hear from the scientific community is that the genes and mutations being studied have potentially dramatic, non-therapeutic effects, such as altering humans’ intelligence, attractiveness, athleticism, and other personal characteristics.
When, for example, the Chinese scientist He Jiankui shocked the world last year by bringing to birth twin girls who had been genetically edited, he claimed he was primarily concerned with making the girls immune to HIV. There was no reason to assume those girls would ever be exposed to HIV. There was no reason why He Jiankui did not mention in his public statements that the mutation he had edited is also associated with greater intelligence.
Where is the most money to be made? My bet—and the bet of much of the research community—is on designer babies; the genetic enhancement of humans’ capabilities and characteristics.
In response to the news about Rebrikov’s experiments, one of the pioneers of the CRISPR gene editing tool (the technology used in genetic experiments) said:
“The project is recklessly opportunistic, clearly unethical and damages the credibility of a technology that is intended to help, not harm.”
We need to remind the scientific community that it is not their “credibility” or CRISPR’s that is the greatest victim of human genetic engineering.
It is, and always will be, about the babies.
Chris Reilly writes and speaks about pro-life bioethics. He advocates against genetic engineering of human embryos at HumanPreservation.org.