No doubt, one is aware of controversy surrounding the creation of “designer babies.” Experts debate vigorously whether it is ethical, moral, or legal to alter the genetic library of a human embryo. Many argue this should be forbidden—at least for now—until we better understand the science and have more time to reflect on the implications of attempting such work.
The discourse splashed across the headlines recently when a scientist in China, He Jiankui, PhD, announced that he had done exactly this using CRISPR-Cas9 technology. The first (and reportedly also second) designer human baby was created with the intention of making it resistant to infection with HIV.
Could designer babies soon be our reality?
Before our society goes down this path, I wish to offer a few words of caution. What all the debate so far has failed to grasp is that designer babies, if nurtured over many, many years in absurdly expensive undergraduate universities followed by more years in incredibly expensive medical schools, and then trained for many more years in internships, residency programs, and fellowships, have the potential to one day become—yes, that’s right— “designer ophthalmologists.”
Given this sobering fact, it would be wrong to give a green light to implementing this genetic technology until someone has carefully considered what should be the exact characteristics of these designer ophthalmologists. I’ve given this careful thought and present the results of my analysis (to the best I can read my handwriting on the cocktail napkin from last night).
Peter J. McDonnell, MD
E: [email protected]; P: 443/287-1511
Dr. McDonnell is the director of the Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, and chief medical editor of Ophthalmology Times.