I USUALLY play role-playing games with characters that are “better” versions of myself–a “perfect” Rhenn for every game. I can spend four hours on the computer clicking and setting preferences for my character: cropped hair atop a widow’s peak, jet-black eyes, a slim bod with a knack for sleek clothing, and of course a penchant for the arcane arts.

This might be why I was nothing short of astounded when the United Kingdom last February approved a researcher’s request to permanently change the DNA of human embryos.

We are one step closer to “designer” babies, super-enhanced humans, finding a cure for cancer, hereditary diseases, and even putting a stop to infertility. But why does it seem so wrong? Is it because the process is so simple that, and I quote Time magazine, “nearly all laboratories are equipped to do it”?

The particular method, called the CRISPR/Ca9, was discovered by Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna and employs the same processed bacteria used to disable viruses, where the Ca9–a protein found in repeating segments of DNA–is used to kill viruses by destroying segments of their genetic makeup, disabling and destroying the viruses naturally.

The use of CRISPR/Ca9 for gene editing was said to have been conceptualized as early as the 1970’s. The logic used to request for the CRISPR/Ca9’s procedure in human embryos is akin to the one used by the Chinese in animal tests, whereby the method can give insights to hereditary and neurogenerative diseases.

This opens various medical possibilities, as scientists can now observe organisms with missing segments of DNA and check how they react and grow. This method was used, for instance, to change the coat of furs on laboratory rats. The same method is to be used in human embryos as well.

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When Less is More

However, embryos “edited” with the CRISPR/Ca9 process are not allowed to live beyond 14 days. They would not be implanted into a woman’s womb and grow into actual babies.

In truth, I was surprised about the lack of international response. To be sure, the Zika virus outbreak and more “socially urgent” issues such as poverty and the war on terrorism and drugs are urgent global concerns. But the world seems unaware that there is an unprecedented amount of risk surrounding CRISPR/Cas9 and other gene-editing methods.

I am led to ask myself whether or not biotechnology–or even the entirety of modern medicine–is still on the right track with its goal to make us have “better” lives.

“Better” lives at what cost?

Fourteen-day-old embryos even with tampered genes are still products of a sperm and an egg, a proof of the magic of life that is ever-present in all of us. With the tool to edit this very fabric, where do we even draw the line between the betterment of human society–a cure for diseases, or a “solution” to childless mothers–and sheer hypocrisy?

Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines president Socrates Villegas wrote in a pastoral letter that despite the similarities of stem cell therapy to “natural healing” (only that the former is assisted by medical procedure), the usage of human embryos is simply not allowed.

“It is morally repugnant as the use of human embryo means killing a human being in order to save another human being,” he said.

How can an expecting mother, for instance, live with the fact that her infertility was “rid” using a method that needed to kill a child that could have been another’s?

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Derailed?

No matter how potentially “helpful” this method can become to treat the deadliest of diseases, we have an obligation to respect creation. We have to make sure whatever medical method we discover, it must be within the boundaries of respecting human life.

Think of the number of lives we have never let flourish just for the sake of, say, combating hair loss or other genetic defects.

Surely, there is the undeniable contribution of such medical methods to human society. We cannot even disqualify the need to experiment on living organisms to make sure such methods work. But must we really go beyond the line of medical ethics and immediately tamper with human embryos to “solve” genetic abnormalities?

Despite the amazing feats that could be accomplished by the CRISPR/Ca9, or just the plain notion of gene editing in general, we have to remember that there are costs to toying with higher power. I just hope that we are prepared to go wherever this path is heading to, and that there will be no regrets in the end.

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