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article imageOp-Ed: Genetically modified behaviors? It's here, and it's quite real

By Paul Wallis     Jan 26, 2016 in Science
Quebec - The new theory for germline guidelines is based on IVF screening practices, and it’s pretty damn confronting. Forget Frankenstein; this is a whole new order of difficulty with a lot of new dangers.
In a society where accountability is virtually non-existent, it’s also a very high-risk issue. The ability to edit genes and deal with genetic disorders with genetic screening is either a horror story in progress or a major achievement depending on your point of view. Just about everybody has pointed out that an arbitrary determination of genetic makeup is untrustworthy by definition.
Big money will be in play, and that money usually wants to make a lot more of itself. Greed reproduces itself, too. Given the environment of truly irrational pricing and other depraved evil spirits/scumbags in medical industries, why should these guys be allowed to participate, and make more money, editing the human race?
Not to detract from this whole new horizon of fascinating science in any way — the basic process of editing genes in IVF is supposed to manage some truly hideous, crippling, genetic conditions. Fair enough, you’d think. It’s a practical way of managing a lot of otherwise catastrophic medical conditions.
Inheritable germline genetic modifications, however, raise big issues and potentially big problems. Germline is defined by Google as “a series of germ cells each descended or developed from earlier cells in the series, regarded as continuing through successive generations of an organism.” Add to this new tech related to genetic modifications, which has literally exploded in the last decade or so since the Human Genome Project, and the whole issue of gene editing gets very tricky, very quickly.
That means that germline edits are permanent and will be carried on in new generations. In human terms, that could mean “selecting or de-selecting” things like human traits, according to researchers at the Centre of Genomics and Policy at McGill University in Quebec.
Umm…. Turning human behaviors on and off? Sounds like a reliable way of causing multiple disasters, doesn’t it? Some human behaviors may deserve to be turned off, but who do you trust with this ability? Big Pharma? Big Medicine? Big Politics? The usual insufferable pig-ignorant/do nothing/hate everybody “elites” of every generation? Would you trust a society which wouldn’t do well in comparison with a dunghill for rational behavior of its own?
Imagine inheritable behaviors and other characteristics based on the whims of some claque of ideologically and/or money-driven people whose technical knowledge will be superseded in hours or days and whose view of humanity is as rational as a politician’s understanding of ethics and accountability.
The inevitable result would be the “genetic fashions” of the day vs real human needs and rights. This would be the culture of gene editing if it doesn’t have guidelines and those guidelines can’t be enforced. The need for guidelines isn’t in question. The question is whether those guidelines can work at all. There are real dangers in this scenario.
Germline editing, the ugly side
(My apologies in advance to the vast numbers of genetic scientists who aren’t raving nutcases and actually do have very high ethical standards, particularly those leading the charge against Anything Goes germline GM, but these issues have to be visible.)
Another, potentially Holocaust-like, issue is how GM of the germline is carried out. Can it be done without the knowledge of the recipients or anyone else without someone checking what was done after the event? Very probably.
Some of the charming, folksy subjects raised over the last few years regarding genetic science include:
Gene based weapons able to target specific races.
Human cloning ethics or lack thereof.
The ramifications of turning genes off and on, good and bad.
The reversibility or otherwise of gene therapies which go wrong.
Stem cell therapy fraud.
Litigation R Us intellectual property disputes ad nauseam.
Patenting diseases.
Endless eugenics arguments, none of which have been properly addressed.
To add a few more:
What would a population of varying vintages of genetic modifications be like? A multigenerational freak show, or a banal, perhaps absurd, collection of other people’s ideas of human norms? Or both and more?
What if you inherit a liability for which the genetic fix isn’t known at the time? Sadly, that’s not a rhetorical question. It can happen.
How can you enforce accountability on a range of procedures which can be done without scrutiny? It’s not like people doing questionable medical practices make a habit of advertising that they do.
Germline editing isn’t a piece of conceptual string. It’s a real working possibility, right now. The bottom line has to be that only accredited practitioners, with routine built-in cross checks to verify treatments and their effects, can legally carry out any such procedures.
Science has a habit of proving itself wrong, just as much as proving itself right. Pseudo-science in this field is not an option. Proof and validation of therapies need to be front and center of these guidelines.
As is so horribly usual with anything GM, long term studies and proofs are routinely lacking. Germline science is so new it hasn’t had a chance to do these studies. Remember — these aren’t cornflakes we’re talking about. These are people. Due diligence, proper scrutiny, and, hopefully, proven counter treatments to correct unwanted effects should be part of the mix of guidelines.
The trouble is that this science could create an unfixable, unholy, mess. Maybe World War 3 could do as much potential damage to future generations, but not much else. Caution, clarity and good science are the only options.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Germline Editing, inheritable germlines, Gene editing, stem cell fraud, genetic modification of human behaviors
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