On October 6, 2022, Prof Fr. Joseph Tham, LC, participated in the Conference organized by Holy Spirit Seminary College Bioethics Resource Centre and Diocesan Bioethics Committee.
We can distinguish between somatic and germline gene editing, and then between therapy and non-therapeutic enhancement. So in effect, there will be four areas to consider.
- Most people would be in favor of somatic gene editing for therapeutic purposes. This is already being applied for some people with single gene diseases. The main issues here are safety of the procedures, and fair distribution of scarce resources.
- Most people are also against the use of gene editing on germline, ie, embryos or gametes, for the purpose of enhancement. This is the typical designer baby scenario where parents want their children to have special potentials like height, strength, intelligence, longevity, etc. It would be against human dignity and fairness, and has be portrayed in the novel Brave New World.
- The ethics of enhancement of somatic cells is more complex. This is being proposed to make people live longer, stronger, resistant to diseases etc. It is similar to the issues of doping in sports, where some people have greater advantages than others. Other than the issue of safety, the main issue is discrimination and justice. As we see in the film GATTACA, there will be creation of classes of people with this technology.
- The use of gene editing to treat germline or embryos is also problematic. At the present, there is really no need to advance this technology as the current practice is that of screening out the genetically defective embryos. Clearly, from the Catholic perspective, any use of IVF and manipulation of the embyros are unethical.