Second woman pregnant with designer baby

The future? As far as we know, human gene editing has only been used to prevent diseases so far.

Should designer babies be banned? Two months ago, the world’s first gene-edited babies were born in China. Now authorities say another woman became pregnant in the same experiment.

What’s happening

“Lulu and Nana came crying into the world as healthy as any other babies,” said Professor He Jiankui in November. However, the twin girls are very remarkable indeed. Before they were born, Prof He altered their genes so that they will never get the disease HIV. They are the first “designer babies”.

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Editing human embryos is illegal in China. Prof He is now under house arrest while the Chinese government investigates his experiment. This week, they said a second woman was pregnant with a gene-edited baby.

Scientists around the world have been outraged by the experiment. One Oxford professor called it “monstrous”. Prof He said that gene editing could cause problems for the babies later in life. No one knows what the effects will be. The nature of gene editing means that any problems could be passed on to future generations.

Others worry that the technology will be used to create enhanced humans. Parents might ask scientists for babies who are smarter, better at sports or have a certain hair colour.

Should designer babies be illegal?

Some say…

Definitely. Parents should not be allowed to choose how their children look or what they are good at. It is not fair on the children, and it risks splitting society in two. There may end up being a special group of “superhumans” with an advantage over ordinary people who have not had their genes edited. Let us hope that never happens.

Others think…

They should not be illegal. Gene editing has the power to do a lot of good in the world, and Prof He said he was “proud” of his work. As the technology develops, the risks will disappear and some diseases could be erased. That would prevent a lot of suffering. Besides, there is nothing wrong with parents who want their children to be smart and healthy.

You Decide

  1. If you had a baby, would you want to choose what it looked like or what it was good at?

Activities

  1. Write a short story about a world where designer babies are legal. What sort of things would parents want for their children? How would it affect everyone else?

Some People Say...

“If we don’t play God, who will?”

James Watson, co-discoverer of DNA

What do you think?

Word Watch

Genes
The building blocks of DNA which determine certain traits (such as eye colour). Genes are passed on from parents.
HIV
A virus that stops your body from being able to fight off infections.
Designer babies
Babies whose genes have been changed or selected by a scientist.
Embryos
Unborn babies in the earliest stages of pregnancy. (Up to eight weeks.)
House arrest
When someone is not allowed to leave their home.
Monstrous
Terrible, monster-like.
Enhanced
Improved.

Subjects

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