“Gene Editing and God”

Categories: Meditations

While most of us have been paying attention to sports and the political drama in Washington, a quiet medical revolution has been taking place.  Since the sequencing of the human genome about 20 years ago, medical researchers have been using this newfound understanding to develop treatments for genetic disorders.  These treatments employ what is known as gene editing.  Gene editing involves the use of a virus or some other vector to remove a harmful mutation from a patient’s DNA and replace it with genes that will function correctly.

As abstract as this sounds, its consequences have been profound.  This year alone, the FDA has approved genetic therapies for spinal muscular atrophy and cystic fibrosis.  I know Christians whose children suffer from these afflictions.  They are burdened both with the care of a medically fragile child (which is far more time-consuming and expensive than most of us can imagine) and, often, with the knowledge that their child’s disorder will lead to premature death.  For those in such a position, the appearance of these transformative therapies must seem like a miraculous dawn of hope.

However, some brethren are uneasy with the moral and spiritual implications of genetic editing.  Once we start monkeying around with DNA, haven’t we trespassed into areas that properly belong to God?  Aren’t we defying His will?  Also, how do we draw the line between genetic editing for these reasons and genetic editing for any reason?  What’s the difference between curing SMA and creating a future NBA All-Star?

To answer these questions, I think we must consider the events of the first three chapters of Genesis.  When God created Adam, he held within his seed the potential to give the vast diversity of mankind that we see across the globe.  Every race, every individual difference, all of those things were part of God’s original intent.  He saw all of them and pronounced them good.  I will never be an NBA All-Star, but I still reflect God’s plan for mankind.

However, genetic disorders appear on the scene not in Genesis 1, but in Genesis 3.  They are part of the curse that Adam’s sin invited.  We die not because our deaths please Him and fulfill His will, but because our rebellion left Him with no other choice.  If the wickedness of Adam’s first, long-lived, descendants was so great that God had to destroy the world with water, how wicked would we become with an eternity to perfect our wickedness?

I am skeptical of efforts to do a better job with God’s creation than He did, but I see no problem with fighting against sickness.  Ultimately, such efforts will prove vain.  Even children who have been relieved from the burden of genetic illness will someday die.  However, if resisting the great enemy of humankind is wrong, then Jesus Himself was wrong.  How many hopeless people did He heal?

Certainly, the technology used in genetic therapy can be abused, but I believe that the therapies themselves are something to celebrate.  In this fallen world, even the innocent often suffer, but when we use understanding and skill to relieve their suffering, it is a godly act.  I rejoice in the hope that genetic therapy offers to Jayden and Abigail and Sam and their families, as well as to many others whom I do not know.  This is a new kind of healing, but it still comes from the One who gives all healing.