May 31, 2015
Dr. Mark S. Latkovic
Chinese scientists have reportedly genetically engineered (“edited”) the genome (=an organism’s complete set of DNA, including all its genes) of human embryos using a technology called CRISPR (see http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/technology/this-is-the-technology-thats-just-been-used-to-genetically-modify-a-human-embryo/ar-AAbwzyA?ocid=U305DHP; see also this video story: http://www.msn.com/en-ca/sports/watch/dna-edits-of-embryos/vi-AAa3Mzv). They said the embryos were “non-viable;” but only in the sense of the scientific doublespeak that is common nowadays: they were not dead, but simply incapable of developing into an adult because, as the Culture of Life Foundation’s Pilar Calvar noted, they had life-threatening “triploid chromosomes, that is, instead of having pairs of chromosomes , they had triplets , due to the ovum having been fertilized by two sperm.” (http://www.culture-of-life.org/e-brief/chinese-scientists-manipulate-genome-human-embryos; see also, e.g., http://www.culture-of-life.org/e-brief/stemedica-cell-technologies-and-moral-objections-%E2%80%9Cadult%E2%80%9D-stem-cells, which reports that biotech firm Stemedica Cell Technologies used not “adult” stem cells, as claimed, but fetal brain tissue cells from an aborted baby of 14-16 weeks gestation to treat two prominent former athletes).
The hope is to eventually bypass “the embryo stage” by using CRISPR to edit “the DNA of stem cells,” then “growing and replicating those cells into human egg or sperm cells…” Fusing these “new sperm and egg cells” (gametes) would produce “an embryo with the corrected or enhanced genes,” which would then be passed on to succeeding generations (Passed on because the gametes are the germ or reproductive cells, not simply the somatic or body cells of the individual). So, the technology has both therapeutic and non-therapeutic/eugenic (i.e., augmenting or enhancing) functions.
For Catholics, this manipulation of the human genome – whether employed for therapy or enhancement – is an ethical non-starter not only because it is risky for future generations, but because it presently involves making human embryos by means of IVF (For Catholic teaching on IVF, see Donum Vitae, http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19870222_respect-for-human-life_en.html, Part I, No. 5; cf. Part II). In fact, that’s where the 86 embryos came from that were used – and ultimately ended up being sacrificed – in the research. Research, whose meager results will not stop scientists intent on “editing” man, or at least what we know to be man, out of existence.