OPINION: Practical embryonic DNA modification is coming and soon

Who should define the ethical limits of DNA manipulation?

NPR, August 2017: “[An] international team of scientists reports they have, for the first time, figured out a way to successfully edit the DNA in human embryos — without introducing the harmful mutations…”

That article went on to say the research is ultimately aimed at helping families plagued by genetic diseases. I think that part is wonderful. I had an uncle by marriage who had a complex genetic disease that he unknowingly passed to his daughters; it shortened their lives by several decades. Breaking those defective genetic chains would be a boon to the human race.

The potential issue is that DNA modification won’t stop there. What’s going to happen when someone says to the scientist repairing an embryo’s DNA, “While you’re at it, can you make him taller?” Eventually, even the “while you’re at it” part will go away altogether and we know those requests will be accompanied by both pleas for understanding and the prospect of big rewards – “I always had a complex about my height and I’d also like to fund your new research hospital.”

It’s human nature to want to give our offspring advantages; therefore, this has the potential of being a very big and expensive business. That poses another, maybe unsolvable, problem, a potential man-made DNA gap between the haves and have-nots.

In the science fiction film “Gattaca” – whose title was formed from the letters representing the four components of DNA – a future society is organized around genetic qualifications. While the story goes to the extreme to make a point and supplies the mandatory Hollywood ending, it’s food for thought.

If tall people have advantages in life, won’t most of us want tall children? The question may be moot until we have a choice in the matter, but that day is coming soon.

It’s time to put on our thinking caps because this is an area where we cannot afford to make preventable mistakes.

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Marty Richman

Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, Marty (Martin G.) spent his teen years in northern New Jersey. He served more than 22 years on active military duty, mostly in Europe, and is a retired U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 4, Nuclear Weapons Technical Officer. Marty then worked 25 years in various engineering and management positions in the electronics and energetic materials industries supporting the communications, computer, aerospace, defense and automotive sectors. He is a graduate, summa cum laude, from The College of Hard Knocks, among his numerous awards and accomplishments. He was a regular weekly Op/Ed columnist and feature writer for The Hollister Free Lance for seven years and a member of its editorial board for five years. Marty is a frequent commentator and contributor to BenitoLink on a wide variety of local, state, national and international subjects.   Marty was elected to represent the City of Hollister District 4 on the City Council in November, 2018. Marty and his wife, Joyce, have been residents of Hollister since 1996.