Designer Genes: Is it ethical to hack our genes?

There's a lot on the horizon for genetics technology, but what does it mean for humanity? Even though the possibilities seem endless, should we be hacking into our DNA?  

When we discuss "designer genes", we're talking about everything from clipping-out disease in your DNA to customizing babies before birth, to growing human body parts in animals.  It's all part of the genetic revolution.

"We need to make sure that the ethical and regulatory frameworks are ready, so that we can use this science wisely in ways that help and enhance our humanity, rather in the other ways that undermine us," states Jamie Metzl.  He wrote the book "Hacking Darwin" to spark a crucial conversation now, before technology enters unchartered territory in the next decade or two. 

"All of this stuff is incredibly complicated, but more importantly it's incredibly challenging from an ethical perspective, we need to be having those conversations now," encourages Metzl.

RELATED: Designer Genes: Screening embryos to fight genetic diseases

 Metzl believes one of those conversations should be about in-vitro fertilization or IVF, where couples could one day have thousands of their own embryos to choose from and select traits for their unborn child.  We questioned about couples who have a hard time struggling that they have a few embryos left over, how they'd emotionally deal with the thought of 10,000 in a lab?

"You know, this is all very, very difficult. I am extremely sensitive to the fact that people are different and people have different relationships with the idea of life, and when it begins, and we need to build a table that's big enough for everybody to join this conversation," says Metzl.

We also caught up with Dr. Sonja Kristiansen with Houston Fertility Center. She questions the ethics of it all.

"If you're discarding what you believe to be a normal embryo, the physician and the patient have to have an understanding ahead of time and both have to be comfortable with the morality of it, where if it's just one or two it's a little easier.  There are embryo adoptions, but who's going to adopt 10,000 embryos," Dr. Kristiansen wonders.  She also questions its legality.  "With each state, as well as federal, there are rules and codes and laws that we have to abide by, so I don't think in the United States, you're going to be able to just say, I want a tall baby who has blond hair, blue eyes, you know, or I want someone who's going to be a football player.  I don't think that's going to be ethically available. I don't know about other countries."

RELATED: Designer Genes: Custom-made babies?

Some countries are already experimenting with gene modification. You can't help but question, if parents are one day able to choose traits, what if the child doesn't live up to expectations? 

"You may have the genetics to be the best sprinter in the world, but what if you aren't passionate about it or what if you don't want to sprint and that's where it's going to get very frustrating, I would think, for parents," says Metzl.

Choosing healthy embryos, after having them screened for major diseases, through in-vitro is already a possibility, but Jennifer Seals, who had both of her babies through IVF, questions if that's necessary.

"I think when we start trying to take everything into our own hands, we get into a place of, 'I'm going to choose if my baby will deal with this or deal with that.'  Sometimes the journey doesn't look like what you'd expect.  I have a lot of friends with special needs kids and their journey is just as incredible as ours," says Jennifer.

Most Houstonians we talked to think gene-hacking is wrong.  "I think God's got a great plan for everyone and to try to change that doesn't seem the right thing," says one local dad. That's why we're talking about it though, because there are two sides to every story.  "If they want their kids to be different - that's fine, they should, - I can see why people would like it," states one Houstonian. 

Another big concern is longevity. Many more people are expected to live past 100. That would affect things like healthcare, the workforce, and the economy. 

"There are real concerns about what is the size of the population that this planet can handle. But if we want to bring down growth rates, as will happen naturally, the best way to do that is by educating and empowering people," says Metzl.

We're empowering you to keep the conversation going!  How do you feel about gene-hacking? Is it ethical to eliminate conditions or to customize kids?  Take a poll on our FOX 26 Facebook page! Talk to your legislators and local organizations about it.


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