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Quick Thought Of The Week: Frankenstein

Brian-Hillegas-Flickr

The Chinese scientist who claims to have made the first genetically-edited baby has raised more questions than provide answers about healthcare.

Dr He Jiankui, who conducted his work from a small university laboratory in Shenzhen, has reportedly changed the genes of twin girls so that they could be protected against HIV. That’s great isn’t it? So, what are the questions?

Firstly, are the claims even true? The experiments have not been verified by the scientific community, which could mean that Dr He could have pulled off one the greatest hoaxes since Martin Fleischmann announced his success with cold fusion.

There are no scientific papers to back up Dr He’s assertions. That raises another question as to whether Chinese scientists can ever be believed.

Secondly, how much did the Chinese authorities know about the work? The Southern University of Science & Technology said it was unaware of the project. The Chinese National Health Commission has ordered an immediate investigation.

If neither the university nor the government’s medical ethics committee were aware of the project, how much can we trust Chinese intelligence? How much can we trust anything that comes out from China?

What if?

Finally, what if the government did know? What if it wasn’t a serious violation of academic ethics and norms at all, as they have claimed? After all, China doesn’t ban the use of gene editing on embryos for reproduction.

So, what could be China’s purpose behind the genetic-editing of foetuses?

The late Stephen Hawking has provided us with something to think about. What if CRISPR, which stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, could be used to create “designer babies” and “super humans”?

Professor Hawking said: “Once such superhumans appear, there will be significant political problems with unimproved humans, who won’t be able to compete….

…. Presumably they will die out or become unimportant. There will be a race of self-designing beings who are improving at an ever-increasing rate.

China is going to look bad whichever way this Frankenstein experiment turns out. It will either be seen as being incompetent or complicit or amoral.

And that raises another question: Do the ends always justify the means?

And does investing simply mean looking for companies that can deliver the best returns for us? Or should they embrace corporate social responsibility (CSR), which could become something that every business needs to consider?

A version of this article first appeared in Stock Advisor.

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