In July 2018, the well-respected Nuffield Council on Bioethics gave the ethical go-ahead for genetically modified babies, given that it would be in the interests of the future child and would not add to existing inequalities within society.
While this development has not made any changes to the law in the UK in regards to genetically altering babies, it could bring forward research into the genetic engineering approach, with potential for safety and societal impacts to be looked into further.
It’s been argued by campaigners that allowing this form of genetic modification in humans would bring forward a new eugenics movement. Eugenics is the theory of breeding out undesirable human traits and selecting positive characteristics. Highly controversially, the eugenics movement promoted the beliefs of encouraging mating between people with desirable and positive attributes and discouraging the coupling of those with undesirable traits, such as inheritable diseases and abnormalities.
The law in the UK, and other countries, currently bans the genetic modification of babies, but some experiments have shown that this form of early DNA editing could potentially stop children from inheriting serious diseases from faulty genes. However, this kind of editing would impact all of the cells of the baby and means any modifications would be passed down to subsequent generations.
It’s already possible to screen babies for possible serious diseases and abnormalities before birth, giving the parents a chance to decide whether that child would have a good life or not, and to prepare should they continue the pregnancy. Opponents to genetically modifying babies would argue that this screening in early pregnancy is enough and should not go further.