Blog: Crossing the Rivers of Humanity

Crossing the Rivers of Humanity
Crossing the Rivers of Humanity
Date: 2018-Dec-03 05:33:05 EST

I've been thinking, off and on, about He Jiankui's research, his experiment, and China's decision to shut his work down. With increased understanding of genetics, it feels obvious to me that eventually we'd cross the line of editing human genetics unless a very strong consensus develops against it, worldwide. And even if it does, that editing may happen among those who dissent. It seems most likely to me that the easiest thing to control is how uncommon this is, what funding gets attached to it, and whether economic drivers can operate in the open; human procreation is sufficiently decentralised and the necessary equipment is widespread enough that it's hard to imagine any two well-educated academes would be unable to do this to their children should they want to, or that anyone could detect it. And so I think most of the regulation will have to focus on prevalence (and perhaps liability should it be discovered). This is not the same thing as calling it ethical - we might rightly worry about consent for the child and their descendants and possibly disease vector concerns at least (a number of the other concerns are, in my view, invalid at small scale).

A number of the most difficult problems in society then come down to individual autonomy interacting with societal duties - boundaries between the two are at the heart of most popular politics. What then should we think about these early experiments and what will probably be increasing frequency of these kinds of events as the knowledge and the tooling continues to advance? I haven't progressed all the way to a conclusion yet; there are plenty of arguments I hear that I'm already willing to write off (such as the idea that we're going to avoid doing this forever), but I'm taking my time on this path.