Myths and Facts

Because there is so much misinformation about this issue, here is our guide to the fake news and the truth.

If we don’t allow the creation of GM babies babies, children with terrible genetic diseases will suffer.We already have safe and tested technologies for preventing genetic diseases. So, it is unethical to use dangerous new technologies on children, when safe alternatives exist. The creation of GM babies adds no new medical benefit. In private, and in scientific reports, the advocates of allowing GM babies admit this, but on TV they always claim that human genetic modification (HGM) is the only way. The claim that genetic modification is necessary to prevent suffering is moral blackmail, which tries to force you to stop thinking critically.
Banning the creation of GM babies would stop scientific progress.The creation of GM babies is just one, very dangerous, application of the new technology. There is no ethical problem with most other applications (including ‘somatic gene therapy’). Once we have a clear global ban on cloned and GM babies, responsible science will be able to make more progress without fear of a public backlash.
Fears about eugenics are scaremongering.We’ve already seen what happens in eugenic societies, in the 20th century, especially in the USA and Nazi Germany. In fact, even after the Holocaust, many aspects of eugenics persisted and are happening now. Saying that is not accusing doctors of being Nazis. On the contrary, the problem is precisely doctors’ and scientists’ misguided good intentions and over-enthusiasm. Some who are planning HGM, like Werner Neuhausser are clearly thinking at the same species level as 20th century eugenicists: “We as a species need to maintain the flexibility to face future threats, to take control of our heredity”. Compared to the early 20th century, our knowledge of genetics and our technology is far more sophisticated: the risk is of a new, much more powerful techno-eugenics.
We can regulate the technology so that it’s used for real medical benefits and not for ‘enhancement’.Firstly, since there existing alternatives, there are no new medical benefits. But it’s notoriously hard to draw a clear line between medicine and ‘enhancement’, partly because of commercial pressures. We have failed to do it with pharmaceutical drugs and surgery, so why will it work better with human genetic modification (HGM)? Already, the UK Nuffield Council on Bioethics has said that outright designer babies are ethical. The only safe and robust way to prevent a designer baby market is to ban HGM altogether, which is why governments have done that.
Banning GM babies would violate women’s reproductive choice.Women have a basic right to choose about their own bodies. But there is no right to choose your child’s characteristics, which is a form of consumerism, hence the term ‘designer babies’.
Legal bans are useless and will just create a black market.This is an argument for legalising murder. A world in which the authorities prosecute those who break legal bans is much better than one in which designer babies become normal and create a eugenic society.
Genetics is so complex that it will not be possible to use genome editing to affect appearance or abilities. Therefore, we don’t need to worry about designer babies.It is true that genetics is complex, but not always - we should not be complacent. Some cosmetic traits, e.g. eye and skin colour, are strongly influenced by only a few genes. Red hair, a single gene trait, is undesirable in the UK, so a Danish sperm bank announced that it was ceasing to recruit red-haired sperm donors. It will be possible to manipulate complex traits to some degree, and there will be a market for that. Recently, a US company announced it would be offering prenatal genetic tests for IQ, previously thought to be impossibly genetically complex.