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Skip to 0 minutes and 0 secondsGene editing or genome editing is now on the horizon with a technique that has recently been perfected. This, like many other areas in assisted reproduction is highly controversial and the biggest controversy here surrounds the fact that when this technique is used it affects or can affect future generations. So if the aim is to eliminate a defective gene if the aim is to ensure that the children and future progeny do not inherit a gene, for let us say a serious genetic disorder why isn't that a good thing? Well, in principal it sounds like a good thing.

Skip to 0 minutes and 46 secondsYou eliminate it once and for all not just in the next generation for your future child but for all the generations, all of the progeny to come. Well, this is an example of the unknown future consequences. Even when something seems to be perfected, something can go terribly wrong and this is a technique that should be used with the greatest of caution. Currently there are some people who say it should never be used because we simply can’t control it and we don’t know what can happen in the future.

Skip to 1 minute and 19 secondsOthers argue that like many other advances in science let us not allow it to take place prohibit until there is more science, more techniques are done and we know that it is perfected. Perfected is a word that is hard to come by because it is very rare that anything is perfect. So this controversy is likely to continue. Currently there is a moratorium and interestingly enough this moratorium was called by scientists, not by ethicists, but by scientists. And many ethicists chimed in saying that it’s too soon to use this technique for the future.

Skip to 1 minute and 56 secondsMy own view is that this is a greater risk than anything that is done that might affect one individual but as science marches forward it is probably likely in the future that scientist with great abilities and great knowledge will say that this is ready for prime time, stay tuned.

Effect on future generations

One of the worries around genome editing is that it is not just the individual being treated who is affected, but potentially all the children that person may have.

On the positive side, this means that a heritable mutation can be cured once and for all, which would be very useful.

For example, if a person has a cancer-causing gene mutation BRCA, and their faulty copy of the gene were corrected, this would mean that not only that person would be free from the mutant gene, but any children would be free of it as well.

However, this also means that an error caused by genome editing can have lasting and potentially devastating consequences. This is why both scientists and ethicists worry about genome editing, as Ruth Macklin explains.

For your discussion: What do you think about about the risk for future generations when it comes to gene editing? Who is to decide what constitutes a safe technology?

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This video is from the free online course:

Making Babies in the 21st Century

UCL (University College London)