One cause for perturbation is that, once again, I find myself agreeing with the Daily Mail. That’s a shock to the system, but over the weekend they were fulminating about some proposals put forward by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics. This is no collection of wild-haired, swivel-eyed loonies wearing tinfoil hats. Some of the best geneticists in the UK, along with lawyers and ethicists, form the group.
They decided in their wisdom, and I use the term loosely, that the new gene editing techniques that have been developed should not only be applied to treating inherited disease. It would be ‘morally permissible’ in the future to use such techniques to ‘enhance’ humans.
I can see a whole bunch of problems here. Enhance is a bit subjective, isn’t it? What do we want? The brain of a genius in a perfectly six-packed body? Who decides? I’m not a Luddite, I see the advantages of a lot of technology, but sodding about at a cellular level just because we can, not because there’s anything genetically faulty, is wrong. FFS we don’t even allow GM foods in the UK.
Something else. We know a lot about the human genome in terms of its structure, thanks to the efforts of John Sulston’s teams back in the 90s and early 2000s. We know how many genes there are (and it’s surprisingly few, fewer than a lot of plants), but we don’t know what the hell they do. They get switched on and off, they get modified or simply mutate, the whole thing is constantly changing. It would be like attempting to tune a racecar engine without understanding how it works in the first place.
I think I can see where this would go. Rich people would pay handsomely to ensure their offspring had some kind of advantage over the proles. Strikes me that’s a step on the road to eugenics.
Personally, I wouldn’t go anywhere near it, for another reason not anything to do with morality. The CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technique was last week shown to be nowhere near as specific as was once thought. It doesn’t just edit the target, it can cause mutations hundreds of genes away. Whoever would have thought that, eh?
On the subject of paying for your baby, a company called Access Fertility have devised a scheme. In a grim parody of ‘no win, no fee’ ambulance chasers, they’ve come up with the idea of ‘baby or your money back.’ Couples cough up nine grand, and for a two year period they get an ‘all you can eat buffet’ of IVF. If things fail, you get your cash back. This has been a response to the NHS ‘rationing’ IVF.
If I had my way, IVF would not be available on the NHS at all, and I speak as one who couldn’t have children. Infertility is not an illness, and having a child is not some sort of human right. At a time when the NHS is strapped for cash, I can think of much better things on which to blow the three grand a cycle for three cycles.
Oh, and by the way. That nine gees that Access Fertility will take out of your wallet? It doesn’t include any drugs. Expect to pay through the nose for those.