In the movie Batman Begins, Bruce Wayne (a.k.a. Batman) is acting the part of an outrageous playboy in order to maintain his cover. At the tail end of one escapade, who should appear but Rachel Dawes, a friend from years ago whose admiration he craves. He tries to explain that what she has just witnessed does not represent the real Bruce Wayne.
Rachel devastatingly replies, “Deep down you may still be that same great kid you used to be. But it’s not who you are underneath; it’s what you do that defines you.”
Is that true?
A child with cystic fibrosis (CF) can look forward to a lifetime of nearly suffocating in his own mucus, probably infertility in the case of a male child, and finally death in middle age.
The disease is genetic. If you were pregnant and knew your baby was destined to struggle with CF, what would you do?
- Have an abortion?
- Carry the baby to term as-is?
- Repair the defective genes so he would not develop CF?
For me, the choice would be easy. I would repair the genes.
This week, news broke that scientists have managed to edit the DNA of human embryos using CRISPR-Cas9 technology, in a way that could absolutely cure CF and other diseases. (Here’s a 90-second explanation of CRISPR, and here’s one in more depth that runs 7:20.)
Not only could the technique prevent disease in an affected embryo, but the gene would forever be eliminated from the line of descent (the embryo’s children). Pretty great, right?
Yes, but the scary part is that this technique could conceivably be employed to edit any gene. You want taller children? Smarter children? Stronger children? You will be able to have them — for a price.