A landmark US study by scientists at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland has for the first time successfully edited out a genetic mutation that could cause heart disease, but the fearmongering over designer babies rages on. Where would research into cures for genetic diseases be without a good old debate around the scary future of eugenics?
For once, let’s not allow that rhetoric to take over the headlines, in the way that it did two years ago, when research into mitochondrial replacement therapy, so-called three-parent babies, made strides. This is a good and promising breakthrough, not something to fear.
It’s easy for those unaffected by genetic diseases to dismiss scientific progress as a step towards a future in which we start selecting a criterion of eye or hair colour from a design-your-own-baby catalogue. But for people like me, affected by an incurable genetic disease that caused me to go blind, scientific advancements into gene editing and mitochondrial replacement therapy offer nothing but hope. If there is any chance of potentially saving yourself or your baby from illness, don’t tell me you wouldn’t take the opportunity.
Don’t get me wrong, being blind has made me who I am today, and I’m grateful for that. I’ll continue fighting for equality and for the rights of disabled people, but my eyesight stops me from doing so many things that I could do otherwise. If we stop all progress into scientific research now because of the assumption that we are heading towards a society of designer babies, all that will happen is that some of us will continue to inherit often life-threatening diseases. If the only resistance to the continued research into curing genetic diseases is due to fears over a slide towards producing superhuman babies, I think people need to take a look at things from my perspective.