First gene-edited babies claimed in China

Besides the ethical issues with human clinical trials of gene editing, I found it interesting that the (alleged) editing wasn’t for prevention of some genetic disease that could otherwise not be prevented otherwise, but enhancement of human bodily capabilities to be able to resist HIV in the future. Is it ethical, including from a Christian viewpoint, to modify your body such that it is enhanced compared to its “natural” state? I have talked with Catholics, for example, who seem to prioritize preserving the integrity of the “natural” body as much as possible. It is not clear whether they would agree or disagree with an experiment like this.


Pretty sure the vast majority of scientists and ethicists, Catholic or not, are not happy with these germline DNA enhancements on human babies.


This also reminds me of the conversation we were having a few months ago where I was warning that something like this was coming soon out of China and folks were giving me a hard time about that: Human-Animal Hybrids and Chimeras

My source, who is a well known medical Dr, scientist and ethicist (also a Christian) had said this is probably just the begining… China has its foot on the gas, when much of the rest of the world has their feet on the brakes. He was at the conference in China last year and had people telling him how freaked out they were about what is coming.

Maybe after this announcement, people will start to wake up and realize this is real… we need Christian scientists and ethicists to be at the tables discussing these advances.


Did you talk to Dominicans? They are very Thomists-Aristotelian and super into “Natural Law”. I think many Catholics are okay with gene editing the body to better resist HIV.


I thought that natural law is the foundation of all Catholic morality?


BBC News interviewed a subject expert who is skeptical of these results, and the hospital associated with the study has disavowed any knowledge of it taking place.

Nevertheless, @purposenation is correct: something like this is coming, if not now, then soon. Even if this one turns out to be a hoax, the next one may be real.


Given that a seemingly reputable US researcher (Michael Deem) has endorsed this and claimed to be involved in some aspects of it, I doubt that the study is an outright hoax. But yes, as the news article points out it has not been published anywhere yet.


Whenever I see reports of such gene-editing, I wonder how long it will take before some CRISPR-equipped lab-assistant decides to sneak some “genetic graffiti” into the genome by means of “genetic ASCII code”, or whatever it is called. [I realize that various standards have already been proposed for that ASCII encoding.] It will be the genomic equivalent of “Kilroy was here.”

[Yikes. That one really dates me as an archaic dinosaur. Does anyone nowadays recognize “Kilroy was here”?]

I’ve also wondered what standard conventions will develop for genomic “comment code”. Just as a “!” used to introduce a comment in an old FORTRAN program, or perhaps the pairs of "/* " and "*\ " framing characters used in batch control-codes, how will gene-editing scientists go about notating their edits somewhere in the middle of a genome? Perhaps:

/* 11/26/18: Next 7 bases inserted by J.L.Doe,F.R.Chu et al at ACME Labs, Genomic Editors Union Local #427, and C.F.Smith,R.J.Williams at Univ.of.Texas. Go Longhorns! *\

At that point, how long will it take before there is advertising copy buried forever in many generations of genomes?

(And when we will we start seeing rude comments inserted after a particularly embarrassing genetic sequence? For example: "/* Poor guy. He is going to have really large ears. *\ ")


No: in Catholicism, Natural Law is considered worthy of contemplation, but not all of morality is derived from it. e.g. scripture is not considered natural law, and moral tenets derived from it is therefore not based on natural law.

Further, Natural Law does not mean preserving the “natural state” of your body as much as possible.

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If my understanding is correct, both parents had HIV so it was exercise to prevent transmission to the child. IVF techniques will prevent transmission from the father, but there is still risk of the mother transmitting the virus.


We need ethicists of all worldviews at the table. The biggest concern right now is the safety of the procedure. While the technique may make the intended changes there is also a chance that there will be unintended changes elsewhere in the genome. There are also questions of efficacy. Specifically, there is a possibility that only some of the cells in the children carry the gene edit which means they are still susceptible to the HIV virus. In one of the children they only had a successful edit on one of the alleles which means that child is still susceptible to the HIV virus. This means that for one of the children they went through a very risky procedure that didn’t produce the outcome they intended.

Safety and efficacy are the two things that people of nearly all worldviews can agree on.


They are already at the tables, whether most people realize it or not. In the US ethics training is mandatory for anyone participating in Human Subjects research, and there are additional standards for International research.


The problems with embroyonic/germline gene editing for Catholics (and other Christians) are not only the ones you are pointing to, but also the byproducts of all the testing that needs to be done as well as what happens to the “failed” tests or “extra” embryos – the process often requires in vitro (not OK with Catholics) and/or a high number of aborted fetuses and/or the freezing of extra embryos. Adult, somatic cell genetic therapies avoid many of these issues, so Catholics are more open to those types.

Genetic testing combined with in vitro actually can be a bigger problem for Catholics than CRISPR, because lots of embryos can be created and sequenced and then the “undesirable” ones or ones with defects can simply be discarded and only the “best” ones implanted… no CRISPR is needed.

Outside of cases where the two parents are the carriers of a defect, seems like enhancements could end up being the biggest market for embroyonic CRISPR esp. in China.

Catholic biologist Dr. Daniel Kuebler discussed this with me in Ep. 8 of the podcast:


Many Christians, esp. active, church-going Christians, (see my comments below re: Catholics) often look at these issues with a differnet set of ethics than other scientists. And, unfortunately, on average, the perecentage of top scientists who are active, church-going Christians is low (the members of this discussion board notwithstanding).

But thankfully, yes, I have encountered some Christian scientists who are being invited to the tables.

PgEd, run by Dr. George Church’s wife, Dr. Ting Wu, being a great example of a secular group reaching out to Christians and other faith groups.

At the same time, I was disappointed with Dr. Church’s comments re: the China human gene editing milestone (seeming to endorse it). But hoping to hear more from him and PgEd soon on this.


Let me clarify: I do not think that Catholics have problems with creating babies that are healthier and better able to resist HIV.

What can be seen as problematic is scientific experiments done on healthy embryos that has a chance of failure. However, these issues are distinct from:

Interesting. But I thought that the logic is (approximately) the moral tenets in Scripture make the most sense in a natural law framework. In other words, God doesn’t just arbitrarily give moral commands in Scripture, but base them on natural law as the underlying moral principle of the universe.

If you talk to a Dominican maybe :rofl:

Well, one can’t just dismiss this as peculiar Dominican ways of thinking. I thought that one of the strengths of the Catholic system was that it is able to posit an underlying moral framework to interpret commands in Scripture and guide us in moral reasoning about things which are not explicitly addressed there.

My point is that there are a variety of views within Catholicism on natural law, and whether natural law underlies moral tenets derived from the scripture. Certainly many (most?) Catholic scholars will disagree with:

In the sense that this makes God lower than Natural Law.