Time for “Three Laws of Genetics”

Britain is just a step away from allowing genetic engineering to change how our future generations are born. Fundamentally the objective is creditable because it is aimed at putting an end to a set of genetic diseases which we inherit from our mothers for no fault of ours. 
 
More specifically, they are trying to avoid unhealthy genes in the mitochondria of cells that cause genetic diseases like muscle dystrophy or even diabetes. Since mitochondrial genes are inherited only from the mother, by removing the nucleus and placing it in the egg of a healthy donor, they can get rid of the mother’s faulty mitochondria. 
 
It is a simple procedure but the implications are tremendous. 
 
To start with there are groups which still oppose these treatments, not because of ethics but because we are trying to move ahead with less or wrong information. For example, even though there have been enormous strides in understanding of genes and human reproduction, no doctor or scientist can guarantee the success of given IVF treatment. In the same way, nobody can predict whether the newly created embryo from which the original mitochondria had been removed will grow normally. Ethical groups are also opposed to indiscriminate creation and destruction of embryos. 
 
The other problem is more complex. Since the donor mitochondria has minute quantity of genes, future generations will be technically from 3 parents. Even though the mitochondrial genes are less than 0.2% they can alter the characteristics of future generations in ways unknown. Apart from the medical implications, what would be the impact on such a child’s psychology, the idea of a family as well as society? We can only have very uncomfortable guesses.
 
Finally, the greater question is the ethics of allowing scientists to play God. This incremental tweaking of the human embryo and genes could one day lead to designer babies (how about one with purple skin and green eyes?) or to some ill-conceived utopia of a ‘superior’ human race. 
 
Perhaps that is why the British government has called for a public consultation. They could have felt that the government alone should not be blamed for the monster they are about to set loose 🙂 
 
Pragmatically speaking, no one can stop the march of science (even though they can postpone). It is better to have proper guidelines and governance structures in place rather than any outright ban. Serious research should focus on betterment of human life, including getting rid of diseases, genetic or otherwise. These research and techniques also should consider preservation of the human family unit. Other cosmetic activities while cannot be outright eliminated, at least should be relegated to the fringes.
 
I think it is high time to come out with an universal ‘3 laws of Genetics’ aka Asimov.
 
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