Françoise Baylis


On her book Altered Inheritance: CRISPR and the Ethics of Human Genome Editing

Cover Interview of February 05, 2020


Should we be excited, cautious, or fearful about designing future children? Should we be aggressively trying to take over the human evolutionary story by genetically modifying our descendants? Is it reasonable to think that designing the (near) perfect human is a project we should embrace? Or, do we need to introduce strong global regulations to prohibit, or seriously limit, efforts to control the biology of future generations?

We need time to think carefully and critically about such questions. More precisely, we need “time to consult, to deliberate, to question, to investigate, to interpret, and to respond.” For this, we need slow science.

But slow science is a challenge insofar as it is clearly in tension with dominant practices in science where there is increasing competition and corporatization in response to the political and commercial drive to build knowledge economies. But at what cost do we keep racing about without knowing or understanding where we are racing to?  In November 2018, after the surprise revelation that genome-edited twins had been born, the Organizers of the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing called for a translational pathway forward — a roadmap from basic research in the laboratory to future research in humans. But do we know which direction is forward? And, who decides?

Though I worry about some of the negative consequences of rampant populism, my answer to this question is “all of us.” This book aims to improve science literacy and ethics literacy so as to broaden the conversation. The longer-term goal is to shift the power dynamics so that the important questions we need to ask and answer about our future are not the purview of select elites.

If we are not able to make this shift, dire predictions of a future bifurcated world may well come to pass – assuming we are able to effectively tackle the current problems of climate change and still inhabit this planet. Consider, for example, the future depicted in the 1997 film GATTACA where there are ‘valids’ (persons who are genetically enhanced) and ‘in-valids’ (persons who are naturally born). Allowing those with economic, social, political, and geographical privilege to entrench their privilege in their DNA — thereby increasing the genetic gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ — cannot be a good thing, anymore that the current and ever-increasing economic divide between the 1% and the masses. Ultimately these kinds of divides do not bode well for any of us.