With the evolution of genes and the recent Chinese experiments on babies, the question of whether it is ethical to genetically modify people has left the field of scientific and philosophical speculation to enter the very near future.
Is it acceptable or even desirable, for example, to edit the genes of children due to illness? Does it make up eugenics? It seems that the debate is less heated than one would expect, at least in America: according to the AP-NORC study (research initiative of the Associated Press and the University of Chicago) about attitudes towards gene editing technology, an absolute majority said that when it comes to preventing disease.
The survey, which covered 1067 adults in the United States, showed that only 12% of respondents consider intervention using genetic modification to increase intelligence or physical skill, as acceptable. This has dropped to 10% for a change in physical attribute, such as eye color.
But 65% were fine, interfering with human genes to prevent non-fatal conditions such as blindness. An even greater percentage (67%) would be acceptable when using gene editing to prevent diseases such as cancer, and 71% were in favor of incurable, hereditary diseases (for example, cystic fibrosis or Huntington's disease).
For comparison, a higher percentage of Americans believe that abortion should be illegal in all and in most cases. These people include, in particular, those who reject an abortion that is motivated by the health of the child, especially when it comes to genetically inherited diseases, even fatal ones. Many anti-abortion activists condemn the practice of countries such as Denmark, where the law allows selective abortion in the case of, for example, fetuses with Down Syndrome – which led to the almost complete elimination of the disease. However, the results of this survey suggest that most Americans believe that genetically inherited diseases are something worth editing from the genome.
Perhaps even more interesting is that the percentage of people who oppose intervention in any case of medical problems is less than 20%, and this is only about 70% when it comes to changing other traits, such as abilities or physical features. This means that three out of ten Americans either approve of editing genes, or are not very well treated, not for health reasons, although, as the study showed, 52% of Americans believe that editing genes will be used for unethical reasons.
However, Americans are not particularly enthusiastic about the idea of the federal government to spend taxpayers' money on funding gene editing research: 48% are against this idea and only 25% approve of it.