Gene editing can be great social leveller

The idea that gene editing could lead to eugenics and thus widen the class divide is moot (Genetic editing should not even be considered by Ms Ho Lay Ping; Feb 25, and Proceed with caution on genetic engineering by Ms Denise Lee Hui Jean; Feb 23 ).

We already practise eugenics when we choose to marry people who are as intelligent, talented or charismatic as we are, to produce successful offspring with reasonable reliability.

Despite this, upbringing and education also contribute a large proportion to a child's success.

While education can promote social mobility, it may also widen the class divide, as children from successful families tend to get a better education.

There is no recipe for engineering a genetically successful child today.

The traits which determine success are based on hundreds or even thousands of genes, whose interactions we have not even begun to understand and can never hope to engineer with today's technologies.

Even if such engineering is possible in the future, the plunging cost of gene synthesis promises that such an opportunity will be affordable to a large segment of the public, regardless of wealth.

Doing away with inherited diseases which suppress the potential of millions of people can also be a profound social leveller.

Refusing to consider gene editing is also tantamount to condemning millions of children in the future to a life of suffering or premature death due to inherited genetic diseases.

Opponents of gene editing have the right to choose not to edit their own children. However, their beliefs should not be enforced on the greater public, especially on parents who need it.

Abel Tan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 01, 2017, with the headline 'Gene editing can be great social leveller'. Print Edition | Subscribe