Generation Gap: On the World's First Gene-Edited Babies

By Yuka Hayashi, January 9, 2019

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Generation Gap' is a monthly series where we ask two Beijingers from two different generations their thoughts on a random issue. This time we ask Ms. Ng, 17 and Mrs. Zhao, 50 their thoughts on Chinese biologist He Jiankui's controversial experiment.

At the end of last year, biologist He Jiankui announced that he had successfully helped create the world’s first gene-edited babies, by altering a gene in the embryos to make them immune to the HIV virus. What are your thoughts on his controversial experiment? 

Ng, 17 

generation-gap-jan.jpgImage by Yuka Hayashi/That's

I personally believe genetically modifying babies is a highly unethical move. I’ve learned about genetic modification in my biology class last semester, and although the process is well thought out, it may still be dangerous. Imagine everything that can go wrong if you modify a human gene… All the monsters we see in movies can become a reality! I think there is a reason why genetically modifying humans was unpopular and unconventional until recently and I don't think we are capable enough to handle it still. And if something goes wrong, who takes the responsibility? The scientists who conducted the experiment or those of us who allowed it to happen? I don't think human lives should be treated as if they are replaceable light bulbs. I mean, objectively, there must be benefits in having gene-edited babies, but overall, I think the drawbacks and risks outweigh the benefits.".

Zhao, 50

generation-gap-jan-2.jpgImage by Yuka Hayashi/That's

I think that if the baby has some deadly mutated gene, he should be genetically modified, but generally, there shouldn't be any genetic modification if the baby is healthy. This is because we don’t know what the resulting impact of modification would be like on him and his family when the baby grows up. I think it’s just way too unpredictable and we are not guaranteed that we’d be able to solve the newly manifested problem later on in the baby’s life. I also feel that this is intervening natural selection, and I think humans may be punished for doing so. But that’s just my superstitious belief."

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