The ethics of genetics Teach article

Today’s announcement that the UK has approved the creation of babies from two women and one man offers an invaluable opportunity to discuss some of the real issues of science with your students.

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This advanced form of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) will offer hope to families carrying incurable and deadly mitochondrial diseases, enabling them to conceive healthy babies. Some campaigners, however, worry that it could eventually lead to the creation of ‘designer babies’. What do your students think? What would they do if they knew they were carrying a genetic disease and had the opportunity to circumvent it?

What can a genetic disease mean for the child, the parents and the rest of the family? Find out how a genetic counsellor works, helping affected couples to understand the results of genetic tests and their implications.

You could follow that up with a classroom activity to investigate the ethics of genetic testing. Explore issues of confidentiality, ownership of information, consent to the information being shared and the wider implications of genetic testing.

What if it were possible not just to circumvent a genetic disease using a donor egg, but to actually repair the affected germline? Using the CRISPR-Cas9 technique, this is already possible, at least in theory. What are appropriate uses of this technology and where would your students draw the line?