The Grapevine

Support For Gene Editing In The US Depends On Intended Use: Survey

The alteration of the DNA of a human embryo, known as gene editing, has long been a subject of ethical debate. Now, a new poll conducted revealed that most Americans' support for the technology largely depends on the reason for its use.

The report titled "Public Views of Gene Editing for Babies Depend on How It Would Be Used" was published online on July 26.

In 2017, human embryos were edited for the first time in the United States with the help of the editing technique CRISPR. Within the next few decades, many believe that gene-editing could help eliminate nearly all kinds of birth defects.

"As these techniques are continuing to evolve, we see in this survey that public opinion on gene editing on babies really depends on its intended purpose," said lead author Cary Funk, the director of science and society research at Pew Research Center.

A majority of Americans (72 percent) supported gene-editing technology when used to treat a serious disease or condition which the baby could end up with at birth. But only 19 percent supported using the technology to make a baby more intelligent, as opposed to the 80 percent who agreed that intelligence enhancement was taking it too far.

Apart from the research required to identify which genes determine intellect, we do not have a concrete and accurate method to measure it. Even experts have not been able to agree on a definition of what intelligence constitutes, said Robert Sternberg, professor of human development at Cornell University, New York.

"So we would be raising intelligence according to someone’s definition, but maybe not someone else’s," he stated. "What, then, exactly, would we be raising?"

While some consider I.Q. tests to be helpful, they are not a good predictor of life beyond the second year of college, according to Elena Grigorenko, a professor of psychology at the University of Houston.

She also believed that people would not like to lose the varying types of intelligence influenced by cultures and experiences.

"We do want to be different because otherwise, we’ll be bored to death," Grigorenko said. "Intelligence is a source of healthy diversity and everybody values that, whether implicitly or explicitly."

Some differences were observed when taking factors like gender and religious beliefs into account. Highly religious people were less likely to be supportive of gene editing when compared to those with little or no religious affiliation. On average, women were more likely to expect negative effects from the technology than men, regardless of intention.

Inequality was a concern for 87 percent of respondents as they found it very likely or fairly likely that the technology will only be available to high-income groups. Another 54 percent anticipated a slippery slope, stating that some may use gene editing in morally unacceptable ways even if most cases involved appropriate use.