Big news today in the world of science. The BBC reported it as; “Scientists have, for the first time, successfully freed embryos of a piece of faulty DNA that causes deadly heart disease to run in families. It potentially opens the door to preventing 10,000 disorders that are passed down the generations. Its applications in medicine are vast and include the idea of wiping out genetic faults that cause diseases from cystic fibrosis to breast cancer.”
Wow. I’m no scientist but that sounds pretty amazing, pretty wonderful. The technology to end diseases; to improve lives; to save lives. Surely this is what science should be all about and justifies all the fund-raising and research done by charities and medical research organisations all over the world; putting the brightest minds to work on solving some of the most intractable health problems that befall our world. I don’t pretend to fully understand the technology or the processes that are being developed in the field of genetics/genomes but I understand that we are looking across the horizon to game changing advances.
I am not naive enough to see these advances in medical science without their potential downsides, abuses and ethical challenges. But I am also not short-sighted enough to dismiss the good they could do – the extraordinary life-saving good they could do – because of scare stories about “designer babies”. It is always the place to which opponents descend when they want to resist change; they spread fear. Every time advances in DNA research, IVF or gene therapy or research emerge the nay-sayers always claim that the new technology will lead to parents choosing the sex, height, eye colour, IQ and the rest of their babies – leading to a genetically-fuelled keeping up with the Joneses’ baby effort to create a new master race.
This is of course technically possible – so I am told by the experts – but would not happen in the the highly-regulated, scrutinised and responsible societies we live. Where this technology exists, so too do the necessary oversight and regulations. Safety checks and safety nets are in place and will keep up with the advances in the areas they regulate.
Surely when the world’s best in white lab coats find possible solutions to the world’s worse diseases, we should give them the tools to get the job done. Now is the time to support these scientists. To get out of their way. To help them help us. I am all for ethical debates and the development of further regulation – I worked for a regulator for over seven years for goodness sake – but I am also all for saving lives. Surely, we can all support that.