Dr. David King: This is truly a disgraceful report that the Nuffield Council has produced. But basically the international community has, for the last 50 years, had a very clear role, which was in [law] in many countries, which says that we absolutely mustn’t do this and the reason why those rules were there because of the experience in Europe in the first half of the twentieth century where there was a movement called eugenics, which was most famously taken up by the Nazis and basically it was about trying to eliminate from society those people who were judged to be genetically inferior and that’s what led to the Holocaust.
So that’s why these rules have been there for a very long time and Nuffield Council simply said, “Oh that doesn’t matter, as long as it’s in the right interest of the welfare of the child.”
Well, I am sorry but that is just not good enough. We always [thought] these similar bases that it will help prevent the birth of sick children, but, in fact, we already have very good robust technologies to do that if that’s what we need to do. If there is something that you need to do in your family, we already have genetic selection techniques [but not with], so actually there’s no medical benefit to this whatsoever, and they actually admit that.
What that technology can do that the existing technologies can’t do is to create what’s called enhancement designer babies which would be a much more technically sophisticated form of eugenics than what was practiced in the first half of the twentieth century.
There’s an awful lot of academic work and things happening in the world today, it’s not a futurist scenario, whereby, eugenics could happen through the free market very easily.
Parents have a natural wish for their children to have the best possible start in life and in the free market condition that turns into trying to give your children a competitive advantage over other people’s children and the problem with that is rich people would be able to do that while the poor people who can’t do that, those children will be at even greater disadvantage. No doubt it will be a free market eugenics that happened through market forces.
Sputnik: You said that there are gene editing procedures that are already available; can you elaborate on what method you are talking about and why you don’t think that this type of gene modification should be used even if it’s to get rid of serious diseases.
Dr. David King: If we know the gene, we know what the mutation in the gene is and we already could have the IVF look at all the […] to see which one has the mutation, simply not implant into the woman the embryo that has the mutation.
That allows us to avoid having children with genetic diseases. But what that technology can never do is what’s called an enhancement. To actually give people extra characteristics, new characteristics or supposedly better characteristic than the average because the selection techniques can only work with what’s already there.
So, that’s what makes genetic engineering for designer babies dangerous and that’s where the market for it will be.
Sputnik: What can you say about early fetal testing for abnormalities and for specific conditions that sometimes lead to the termination of pregnancies?
Dr. David King: This is all a very complex issue and I should say at the start that I am not religious. I am not a pro-lifer. My concern is not about abortion or destruction of embryos. The issue of to what degree we should allow parents to terminate pregnancy for when there is soon to be a genetic abnormality there, is a very difficult and complex ethical question; and I am certainly not opposed to it. However, I am actually a disabled person myself and I have had lots of conversations with disability rights activists in the UK, many of whom are very frightened that this is a continuation of eugenics, the way in which the world tries to stop people like them being born.
I think you have to have a lot of sympathy with that and at the same time, yes we know that some of these genetic diseases are really devastatingly awful for the child and family. We really have to listen to the voices of the disabled people here.
The views and opinions expressed by Dr. David King are those of the expert and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.