In November 2018 global headlines announced the stunning birth of the first gene-edited humans. A pair of twin girls—named Lulu and Nana—were born in China and appear to be normal, healthy babies. But these are no ordinary little girls. They represent a new world with unknown and dangerous consequences.
The two girls’ genes were edited by CRISPR, a technology akin to molecular scissors that cut and paste sections of DNA. The researcher, He Jiankui, changed their DNA to prevent a potential HIV infection. The science community was outraged because this edit—though it sounds positive on its surface—does not merely change the girls’ DNA but will be passed down to future children and the human population as well. What are the ramifications?
Our knowledge of gene-editing and CRISPR’s unintended consequences is too limited for us to begin manipulating humans in this way, scientists declared. He Jiankui bypassed normal standards and an ongoing ethical debate.
Are “designer babies” just around the corner? Many scientists say no, but the fact that a rogue scientist flaunted international restrictions shows that some people are certain to push the limits of technology. If parents could remove the chance of HIV, what’s to stop them from tinkering with genes associated with IQ, autism, or depression? But these involve too many different genes to manipulate, you might think. Startling new technology shows that such an idea just may be possible after all. One in vitro fertilization company has already found a way to screen for traits linked to disease or low IQ that involve hundreds of genes.
Christians above all should join the call for scientists to exercise restraint when it comes to CRISPR technology and humans. On the one hand, we encourage medical research to help fight the curse. But clearly there comes a point where our stewardship of God’s creation stops and playing God begins. The embryos used in this research are human beings made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27), not guinea pigs for us to experiment on.