Will We Stand By and Let Corporations Create 'Humans'?

Will we let companies make synthetic people in test tubes? 
Will We Stand By and Let Corporations Create 'Humans'?
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Matthew Little
Health Viewpoints

Will we let companies make synthetic people in test tubes?

This outlandish question has become an immediate concern now that two teams of scientists have created synthetic human embryos without the use of sperm, eggs, or a womb.
At this point, these embryos are just for “research purposes,” but there are already interested parties looking at genetically modifying embryos so parents can ensure they have healthy children, and there has long been talk of creating designer babies. While such activities are currently prohibited by lawmakers, how long will political resistance last if the public seems indifferent?

A generation ago we would have been in the streets over synthetic embryos. Now, it’s just news. Some people find it odd, while others don’t care or even applaud it. The fact that we may see companies try to create genetically modified or artificially formed people in our lifetime should be alarming.

Perhaps we are numbed to the threat because of the prevalence of abortion and sex-change surgeries. The sanctity of human life and the human body have become ideals fraught with political disagreements over personal autonomy.

Many people object to any limitations on abortion. Late-term abortion is permitted in several U.S. states without restriction. Fetal tissue from abortions is even sold for medical research and pharmaceutical products.

Maybe people aren’t reacting because blockbuster science fiction movies over the last 30 years have created a pseudo-morality around the idea of synthetic people.

Films often feature human clones as heroes who must overcome prejudice against their origins, or robots that are struggling to get their rights as living beings recognized, or humans uploading their consciousness into new bodies.

These themes teach people that it is moral to treat clones, artificial intelligence, and synthetic people as actual human beings. In many movies, humans are the villains for trying to repress these new life forms. Think Blade Runner, Cloud Atlas, and so on.

But getting brainwashed by Hollywood and numbed by political debates shouldn’t leave us sleepwalking into a world of genetically-altered and synthetic people.

While researchers may say they are creating synthetic embryos for greater good—to treat diseases—their “products” will inevitably require corporate investment and financial returns. It’s worth remembering that the research into genetically modifying plants was supposed to deliver healthier food but mainly gave us Roundup Ready crops modified to withstand more glyphosatea profitable poison that affects both people and plants.
You can expect that genetically modifying research animals for certain traits, including behaviors, is helpful for researchers—and the bottom line of the entities selling those “products.” Researchers are already splicing pigs with human DNA to create viable transplant organs, which could save lives. But it’s worth asking why we are creating embryos and organs while doing little about the lifestyle factors that lead to disease and organ failure in the first place.

Americans are dying from terrible food, sitting around, stress, and loneliness and getting “cured” with increasingly expensive and technologically advanced drugs, devices, gene therapies, and biologics.

While some researchers may have good intentions, investors want living organisms, cell lines, embryos, genetic traits, and biotech capabilities they can patent, own, and sell. What will it mean to the very nature of humanity if we give them a free hand with the human genome?

Matthew Little is a senior editor with Epoch Health.