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Sprinkles from the Left

⏰🚀 Ready, Set, Go: These opinions take 1.59 minutes to read.

As one would expect, the ethical and moral implications of this technology are already sparking heated debate. That is good. But there are also economic implications, some of which interact with the ethical issues, and these are worth considering.

Crispr promises to create a large amount of economic value… Genetic engineering and gene therapy may allow people to become less anxious, less depressed or less prone to anger. Considering that the anti-anxiety and anti-depression drug markets are already worth tens of billions of dollars, more effective genetic treatments could become an even bigger industry…

There’s also the question of economic fairness. If Crispr is an expensive commodity available only to the rich, they may be able to give themselves and their children an unfair leg up in the economic competition against the middle class and poor…

In order to prevent this kind of unequal outcome, the government should consider making Crispr therapies available for free to anyone who wants them… This is assuming, of course, that the technology proves to be safe. That cost would be more than offset by productivity gains and increases in human happiness.

Noah Smith, Bloomberg Opinion

[CRISPR] has the potential to remake life as we know it — by preventing devastating diseases, among many other possibilities — and decisions about its future use should be driven by as inclusive and global a dialogue as possible.

Fortunately, there are several ways to broaden the conversation.

Diversify the deciders. Science is a noble endeavor, but it is not entirely pure. Patents and profits and the race against competitors influence individual researchers as well as entire scientific programs… Those influences are not necessarily corrupting, but money and ego have a way of skewing priorities…

As gene-editing technology advances toward the clinic, scientists will need to do more than listen to the concerns of bioethicists, legal scholars and social scientists… That may mean allowing questions over societal risks and benefits to trump ones about scientific feasibility.

Engage the public… Surveys show that most people already support genome editing, as long as it’s directed at intractable diseases and not at the creation of genetically enhanced “designer babies”…

Use existing levers of control. Before they try to enact a moratorium, concerned parties should remember that there are already several checks and balances in place outside China to thwart scientists like Dr. He.

The bluntest of these tools — legal prohibition — is already being used in the United States, where doctors and scientists are barred from editing human embryos.

It may be impossible to prevent truly rogue actors, but it is possible to slow them down without stopping everyone else.

Editorial Board, New York Times

Sprinkles from the Right + Libertarians

⏰🚀 Ready, Set, Go: These opinions take 2.41 minutes to read. (1.41 Right + 1.00 Libertarian)

The primary ethical problems with CRISPR in humans so far have come from “germ line” genetic engineering, that is, editing the genes of gametes or early embryos so that the alterations pass down the generations. Thus, a few years ago, two genetically engineered babies were born in China, with completely unnecessary changes in their genetic makeup, setting off an international uproar (in my opinion based on when the experiment was done, not so much that it was germ-line research).

The experiment discussed by the Financial Times was “somatic” gene editing. The point would be to correct a specific genetic disease in the patient treated, not engineer the patient and his or her progeny. Indeed, the patient’s gametes would not likely be changed by the treatment. This means that the alterations would not pass down the generations.

The experiment reported was a “Stage 1” trial, meaning it was primarily directed at assessing safety. The good news is that it seems to have passed that hurdle, while also showing apparent efficacy.

Good. This is the type of biotechnological research that everyone can support.

Wesley J. Smith, author and a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. (Published in National Review.)

Playing with humanity’s genetic code could open a Pandora’s box. Scientists will eventually be able to alter DNA not just to protect against disease but also to create genetically enhanced human beings. The same techniques that can eliminate muscular dystrophy might also be used to enhance muscles to improve strength or speed. Techniques used to eliminate dementia may also be harnessed to enhance memory and cognition. This would have profound societal implications.

Only the wealthy would be able to afford made-to-order babies. This means the privileged few would be able to eliminate imperfections and improve the talent, beauty, stature and IQ of their offspring — thus locking in their privilege for generations. Those at the bottom would not. This could be a death blow to the American Dream, the idea that anyone who is willing to work hard in this country can rise up the economic ladder…

Here is the bottom line: We should not be playing God. Genetic research holds the promise to prevent, cure and even eliminate disease. But when it is used to create made-to-order “super children,” we have crossed a moral line from which there may be no return.

Marc Thiessen is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and the former chief speechwriter for President George W. Bush. (Published in WaPo - $)

LIBERTARIAN:

Many bioethicists see [human genetic] interventions as a potentially dangerous affront to the natural order, opening a Pandora’s Box of potentially disastrous outcomes we can’t begin to predict.

Yet, it is not at all obvious what the term “natural” means or ought to mean, particularly within the context of a human history defined by technological interventions that necessarily restructure natural reality. We may wonder, for example, whether the domestication of grains was natural, whether the use of vaccines to conquer smallpox and polio was natural, whether turning wolves into dogs tens of thousands of years ago was natural… etc.

What is clearer is that this technology will be used by some people; now that the genie is out of the bottle, we can be virtually certain that the rich and the powerful will have access to these mechanisms and will leverage them for their own advantage in ways we probably cannot yet imagine…

A democratic approach to these world-shifting technologies cannot be one that locks them away behind artificial barriers created by partnerships between the state and capital, allowing the pharmaceutical industry… to collect rents from a scarcity of their own creation. Here, the champions of the free market and the socialist opponents of Big Business can agree. The libertarian solution is also the socialist one: There should be no patents on any treatment that could alter human genetic material — ever…

This knowledge must live permanently in the public domain, or we risk a world in which the powerful sort other people into classes at least partially defined by genetic attributes.

David S. D'Amato is an attorney, a columnist at the Cato Institute's Libertarianism.org and a policy adviser at both the Future of Freedom Foundation and the Heartland Institute. (Published in The Hill)