Is editing human DNA ethical?

“British scientists announced Friday that they had applied for permission to edit the DNA in human embryos, a controversial step that has provoked intense debate around the world,” writes NPR’s Rob Stein.

The researchers stressed that their work would be aimed only at gaining basic understanding of the genes human embryos need to develop, and none of the embryos would be used to try to create a baby. The research would use embryos left over at fertility clinics.

Scientists around the world are debating the ethics of using a new technology known as CRISPR-Cas9 to make genetic changes in human eggs, sperm or embryos. CRISPR-Cas9 enables scientists to make very precise changes in DNA much more easily than before.

Although the testing could lead to beneficial insights into human genes in embryos, such as preventing or treating diseases, it is not without controversy.

Some oppose any use of the technology on human eggs, sperm or embryos because those changes could be passed down for generations and become a permanent part of the human genetic blueprint. Critics say that could open the door to accidentally introducing a new disease or to trying to genetically engineer the human race and create “designer babies,” in which parents pick the traits of their children.

Today’s question: Is editing human DNA ethical?