Change your genes

About a year ago we had some discussions on the three-parent baby, involving the use of healthy mitochondria from a donor. And today we see creeping into the press a new word to us: CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats). This is proving to be an efficient method of editing genes. It may knock three-parent babies into a cocked hat. And we ought to be aware of it. Although gene editing is already possible, it has been a slow and tricky process. By contrast, the CRISPR methodology is speedy and cheap; in effect, the process has been automated. Consequently many research laboratories across the world are racing to refine its use and to discover further applications. We do not know where they will get by the end of this year, let alone over the next decade.

In summary, the method involves the use of a (RNA) guided protein to search out specific sequences of DNA, and snip them out with molecular blades. Repair proteins automatically fill the gap and, if required, insert new genetic sequences programmed by the experimenter. The theory is simple but much research is being done to achieve greater levels of accuracy. If you need a more detailed description, hasten to the internet where you may decide that my basic description is enough for the time being.

The ability to identify and prune genes so speedily brings an immediate advantage. Geneticists work hard to link specific genes to a specific characteristic. CRISPR is a huge step in this direction. It will enable us to study the human organism in its causes and effects comprehensively and in an altogether shorter timescale. About 60,000 diseases are caused by genetic mutations, as yet we can treat only about five percent. The facility to locate and replace genes and so cure many damaging disabilities is one which, in principle, we should see as a blessing. However there is a shadow. Although much experimental work is done on the lower animals it is ultimately necessary to use human cells, including non-viable embryos, and the rejected products of in vitro fertilisation.

Deeper still is the tricky area of germline editing – that is, altering DNA which will be inherited by progeny. Humans have proved exceedingly complex, and some influential scientists argue that there should be a moratorium in this field until the necessary knowledge has been achieved. But this is an international race and it is well-nigh impossible to exercise effective control. Apart from the personal values of experimenters, the financial and reputational rewards of developing methodologies are potentially huge. We must be pessimistic. The slippery slope is not in prospect, we are already sliding down it. This month our own authority (HFEA) has provisionally approved gene editing with CRISPR for an embryo under seven days, prior to destruction.

At the end of 2015 an international conference of scientists debated the question. It did not recommend that experimental research should cease, but that we should “refrain from research and applications that use modified human embryos to establish a pregnancy” until the issues of ethics and safety had been resolved. They were much moved by the mother of a child, dead from genetic disease, who said “If you have the skills and the knowledge to fix these diseases, then frickin’ do it.”

And we agree. Prescinding from the research methodology, we are naturally in favour of correcting faulty genes which would lead, say, to avoiding sickle celled anaemia or Down’s syndrome, providing that this can be achieved safely, and with no unacceptable side effects. But we do not know, for example, what the ultimate effect on the germline will be. It is one thing to experiment with animals, and another to experiment with human beings and their post factum progeny.

We distinguish between an action taken to heal damage and an action, however well intended, taken to alter the personality or characteristics of the embryo. The picture of a parent producing a shopping list for high intelligence, longevity, personality, blonde hair and the rest is grotesque. Yet, in principle all this could be achieved with the help of CRISPR, even though the dividing line between damage correction and improvement is problematic. If human beings can be tailor-made, they will be. I wonder whether we will do a better job than the Almighty.

You think that’s all? Work currently being done on primordial germ cells, which can be developed into sperm and eggs, suggests that the whole process of conception, starting from a skin cell, could one day be completed in a dish, and the result, equipped with custom DNA, implanted in a womb. Though, by then, the womb, which leaves so much to chance, may already be old technology. If that doesn’t remind you of Brave New World, I don’t know what will.

About Quentin

Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Bio-ethics, Catholic Herald columns, Church and Society, Moral judgment and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

61 Responses to Change your genes

  1. St.Joseph says:

    How is that different to what Hitler was doing, the perfect human being.?

    • John Thomas says:

      I read somewhere, St. J, that the ultimate aim of the Nazis (and, I think, the Soviets) was to create a ‘new man’, by one means or another – the “next stage of evolution”, and all that – and what else could be the final end of materialists/atheists/’Humanists’?

    • Alan says:

      Tough to discuss a subject once comparisons with Hitler and the Nazis have been made but could someone outline the problem with the aim of improving mankind (mind and body) as distinct from anything relating to the means or the method?

      • Brendan says:

        Please don’t think I am being ‘ flip ‘ / facetious ; but Christianity has given us the ‘ holy tools ‘ and ‘ methodology ‘ through The universal Church ( Catholic ) to ..” improving mankind ( the mind and body ) ..” in any given time in history . For the Christian/ Creation , Christ is …” the Way , the Truth and the Life..” John 14:6
        This may well be something of the measure of the other ‘ great ‘ religions , but as a Christian that’s where I stand or fall. In passing I note , that in this weeks ‘ Catholic Herald , there is a short piece written about a Belgian nun who has recently died aged 111 years ! It’s quite reassuring that science appears to point to the general belief that religion is ‘ good for you ‘ in mind and body.

      • Alan says:


        I can see the approach you describe being considered more reliable given the belief. Perhaps it’s only in contrast to this that any alternative is dismissed. It just seemed from the criticism and comparisons as if there was more to it than that. The suggestion of something fundamentally wrong with the goal of seeking physical or mental improvement.

      • St.Joseph says:

        A distant cousin of mine Dr R Hamilton Phd.Grt nephew, somewhat.
        Who has written numerous books all quite relative to mind over matter.
        One ‘It’s the thought that counts. Why mind over matter really works!’
        He speaks around the country and has his own web-site,
        My son is very much taken up by him and reads his books and find it a great help in his spiritual life , Although he has a very strong Catholic faith, in his 50s
        I must say I haven’t got around to reading any of them not that I don’t want to.
        I believe the Transfiguration of Jesus on Mount Tabor, in connection with Mount Sinae and Moses, the Ten Commandments reveals a lot of where we are going towards our transfiguration of our mind , body and soul. Too deep a subject to go in to now.

  2. Brendan says:

    Humanities future then ? – the double meaning of ‘ chimera ‘ – GOD HELP US !

  3. Galerimo says:

    Thank you Quentin. What amazing stuff. Though it made me wince to read ‘it is one thing to experiment with animals ‘. For me it is not an acceptable nor a Christian thing to do.

    I imagine fewer and fewer scientists working in this area would feel moved by any ethic let alone a Christian one. From what I read the race to refinement of the gene editing process is well under way.

    Pope Fracis used a great word to describe the experience of what he called ‘Rapidification’ not just the amount of change in our world but the hectic pace at which it runs.

    I try to be hopeful. 5% of 60,000 is a very small amount. Ac co-creators with God our father we cannot hang back when the new technology comes to us.

    Yes, let’s ‘frickin do it’ like the woman said.

    • St.Joseph says:

      If you mean that 5% is worth forfeiting for 60,000, I don’t think you would agree if you were one of the 5%.
      I know that you mean well when you say that, however we are all made in the image and likeness of God .
      We can be playing God a bit too far, to become like Him.
      The Holy Father was supposed to have said on his way home from Mexico- regarding contraception, also I believe if I am right there was mention of Pope Benedict ‘s remark that Nuns in the Congo could use contraception in in the case of rape.
      Nuns are no different to any female when it come to their fertility, they ought to understand when they are fertile and avoid the chances of rape and stay away from a situation that would cause it. They could spend the 5 days in prayer when they were fertile.
      The Lord has given us all an answer!

      • Vincent says:

        St Joseph, I think you have misunderstood the Belgian nuns’ story. The nuns were entitled to defend themselves and their fertility from the rapists, the question of contraception did not come into it. In addition, you can look through Catholic teaching without finding anything against contraception outside marriage; the question is not addressed. Do you think the threatening invaders would have waited for the nuns’ fertile period to finish before getting to their beastly work?

      • St.Joseph says:

        If you look back on the interview to Pope Francis last week, from Life Site News.
        You will see how it was mentioned that they would be able to take the Pill! to save them from being pregnant if they were raped! According to a statement by Pope Benedict
        You misunderstood me when you said about the rapers waiting for the nuns fertile time to become finished-that is a ridiculous comment you made.!
        I suggested’The Nuns would wait before going out until their fertile time was be over, by staying in and use the time for prayer’ Is what I said..!!!
        A different kettle of fish don’t you think?, however no different from a married couple abstaining from sexual intercourse while fertile. That is NOT contraception that is called birth control accepted by the Church. A bit different to young people taking the pill to have intercourse for pleasure!!

      • St.Joseph says:

        I have looked into LifeSiteNews last Thursday’s
        ‘Vatican confirms the Pope was speaking about contraception for the Zika Virus, after that the comment was made about the African Nuns. Look for yourself, I am correct ; the only difference is Blessed Pope Paul V1 not Pope Benedict. was mentioned as saying it.
        So what do you make of that ?

      • St.Joseph says:

        PS. Vincent.
        All abortfacients are wrong whether it be in or outside marriage That is what the pill and others are, so that would be wrong for Nuns as well as any one else.
        I don’t think a rapist would consider his victim and wear a condom.
        To make it clear again the only moral way for protection is to stay in for protection for the Nuns.

      • Vincent says:

        St Joseph, I think there is room for confusion here — given that the Pope’s remarks were conversational. He is distinguishing between abortion — which can never be justified, and contraception which can be in certain circumstances. For example, removing a cancerous womb is a contraceptive act but one which is permitted. So is correcting a menstrual condition by using the pill. And in the nuns’ case, the right to self defence takes priority.

        I think you may not be remembering this incident very well. The Belgians were abandoning the Congo and the warring tribes were invading and murdering and raping any European they could get at. It was a real danger that the first place they would seek out would be a convent — representing both the Belgians and Christian religion.

      • Quentin says:

        As it happens, Father Lombardi — who acts as the Pope’s spokesperson — explained this yesterday, and makes the situation quite clear. Here he is:

    • Alan says:

      St Joseph – “If you mean that 5% is worth forfeiting for 60,000, I don’t think you would agree if you were one of the 5%.”

      I’m not sure about that. For me, if it were the choice between either an unknown life in this world or giving that up for the benefit of others then I think I’d absolutely forfeit that future.

      • St.Joseph says:

        I understand what you are saying, however how do you know that is what The Lord planned for you?

      • Alan says:

        St Joseph – “I understand what you are saying, however how do you know that is what The Lord planned for you?”

        I don’t … but then I don’t know that it wasn’t the plan either. I’m afraid I don’t get much of an impression of such a plan. It would just be the choice I suspect I would make without consideration of whatever the plan might or might not be.

      • St.Joseph says:

        St Padre Pio, said he spoke to a woman in Confession and told her before she could receive absolution, she had to go up to a nearby hill and pray, then come back, she did this, each time he told her to do the same thing, to go up to the hill.
        Eventually on the third time as she was praying a figure appeared to her dressed as a Bishop, she was very frightened and went back to St Pio and told him what had happened.
        He said to her’ that was your son who you aborted many many years ago, and you have never confessed it.
        Just a thought, Padre Pio told lots of things like that
        I have a strong devotion to him way back to my grandmother and mother, he was the reason that my husband converted from an experience he had at St Pio’s canonisation
        also I have been very blessed to have held one of his ‘stigmata’ mittens next to my pancreas and liver last Christmas and thank God have had no pain since!
        As I say ‘Just a thought’ and living nearly two years after told 8 to 9 weeks, and I don’t look ill thank God,
        Faith is a wonderful Gift from God. as I have faith in what I believe is true ,just as Janet Smith says on The Catholic World Report about Pope Francis’s interview also LifeSite News to-day!! Have a read of it!

      • St.Joseph says:

        Alan, sorry for calling you Alex , numb chemo fingers!!

  4. Nektarios says:

    What we see in gene therapy, apart from the outworking of this in practice on humans, I get the horrid feeling, they are leaving medical ethics behind. This is cutting edge science, boldly going where no man has gone before. Unknown territory with unknown and hidden dangers silences medical ethics, for it can only speak from what is known. One cannot give a medical ethic on what is not known, yet.

    There is a a lot of private investment in this area of science, there is money to be made, fame and careers up for grabs, not a good basis for good science. This is still a relatively new science, but the hype of what it will achieve is not yet reached so remains as hype.

    If geneticists are to conduct research in these areas, they speak of the expectations and seek Government approval and usually get it – since when was Governments ethical? There was a time
    they were, but now I see just cleverness to get their way. The geneticists today are employing the same tactics as Governments do to get their way.

    Medicine has made great leaps in understanding, I wonder if they can they handle it? What if it becomes unethical, or perceived beyond the realm of ethics?

    Whilst, I am all in favour of preventative medicine, when it comes to gene therapies, medical ethics committees or boards need teeth, which I fell they are lacking in this area of medicine at the present time. Ethics are perceived as relative.
    Man will always try to justify what they do, even if it is wrong, and lacking in many cases a Christian perspective and ethics, so it can only be relative, and that is dangerous, very dangerous.

    No doubt this being the case, they will proceed accordingly.

  5. G.D. says:

    ” let’s ‘frickin do it’ like the woman said ” is the problem.
    Genetic manipulation (as wrong as i personally see it as) is no different from any other manipulation of the material world.
    Just because ‘we’ can we will. Whatever it is.
    It’s not what we CAN do that matters. As with any ‘advancement’, It’s what we DO with it.
    ‘Rapidification’ is using ‘advances’ without Wisdom – a self perpetuating anathema that man seems hell bent on.
    I sometimes think the Amish have it right!

    • St.Joseph says:

      I may be speaking through my hat here, but will the embryo whose ‘downs Syndrome gene’ been taken away, will that be the same child’s DNA or a different person, does anyone know?

  6. Brendan says:

    St.Joseph – Your question is at the nub of it. The person will have a soul and such ‘ snipping ‘ and ‘ pruning ‘ ( appropriate to lower orders of life ) may indeed be ‘safe ‘ for humans by extracting ruinous DNA ( where experiments have proved in the past through ‘cloning’ – remember ‘ Dolly ‘ the sheep ? – that the body naturally replaces overtime ,’ missing ‘ DNA ) to escape carrying a life-long disease , is not doubt in itself a blessing . Post ‘ Dolly ‘ the jury , is still out on the massive leap , it would seem in the dark , from animal to human.
    This area of ” germline editing ” where progeny inherit what’s gone before , seems for me to point towards the strong possibility of a nightmare ‘ Frankenstein ‘ scenario. So in answer to your direct question I would say , no !
    At Quentin’s suggestion I’ll go back to the internet and look for some more ” detailed ” info’.

    • St.Joseph says:

      I am also thinking, if the embryo changed from being Downs Syndrome to another person,, he or she would perhaps as a Downs Syndrome person go to heaven easier.
      Down Syndrome babies are a reason for an abortion,I happen to believe they are very special lovely children, knowing them.

      • Brendan says:

        Bless you St. Joseph ! I’m just feeling my way through this difficult question. I don’t envisage two distinct ‘ persons .’ …. just one soul . They are ‘ special ‘ and I’m sure the Lord has appropriate treatment awaiting his ” little ones .”
        I leave the ‘blog’ now . Off to Stations and Mass. Pick this up later.

  7. Brendan says:

    I’ve found a site called ..” Everything you need to know about CRISPR ( clustered regularly inter-spaced short palindromic repeats) ”. Here goes !
    Apart from the dubious nature of the results wanted on humans by this genetically-edited procedure on humans ; from a Catholic point of view , by way of the result , the acknowledgment of the procedure would be ethically unsound. At present the work seems to be carried out on ” non-viable embryos ” carried out in China , although in theory stem cells would appear to be a suitable alternative. Further it would seems that when testing on mice , the procedure present is so far from being refined that at least two generations of ‘ chimeras ‘ would be produced before resulting in a required heterogynous mutation type ( having two alleles ( gene types ) male and female ) ; which presumably if transferred from mice to humans would be the required mutated genome type.
    Catholic Teaching is clear ; we cannot take risks resulting in actions altering God’s Creation ( Human life ) where the result is in anyway in doubt ; or the destroy human life during any stage from conception to natural death.

    • Alan says:

      If the brain and the body are not the origin of the personality or intelligence then it wouldn’t seem possible to improve on those features beyond that which was already present in the source. We might tweak the receiver/instrument to improve the reception or the quality of the notes being played, but the composition remains unchanged – as good or bad as it ever was doesn’t it?

      That’s not to deny some of the risks, but it does make me curious about the nature of some of the objections.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Stem Cell and the Catholic Church say Embryonic stem cell research are immoral and unnecessary , Bishop’s Conference Orlando-Declaring that stem cell research does not conflict between science and religion US overwhelmingly approved a statement June 13th . The Bishops voted 191 to1 in favour of the document titled ‘On Embryonic Stem Cell Research.
        It now seems undeniable that once we cross the fundamental moral line prevents us from treating any fellow human being as a mere object of research there is no stopping point, the document said ‘The only moral stance that affirms the human dignity of all of us is to reject the first step down this path’
        The document dismisses the argument that there is no harm in killing a so-called ‘spare’ embryos created for in vitro fertilization attempts because they would die anyway,
        Ultimately all of us will die, but that gives no one a right to kill us,
        It closes with a reminder that the use of adult stem cells and umbilical-cord blood have been shown to offer a ‘better way’ to produce cells that can benefit patients suffering from heart disease, cornea damage, sickle cell anemia, multiple scierosis, and many other diseases.
        Catholic Foundations and medical centres have been and will continue to be to be the leading supporter of ethically responsible advances in the medical use of a adult cells,
        The seven page policy was approved with little debate and few amendments, after an intense and complicated debate at the meeting of over a 700 page liturgical translation.

    • Alan says:

      Sorry Brendan, the above was not meant to be a reply to your particular post.

  8. Brendan says:

    Alan – Your point is taken for us all..” the brain and the body are not the origin of the personality or intelligence …” It would seem as Quentin points out that CRISPR ( a good example of ” rapidisation ” that Pope Francis talks about ) – which incidentally was discovered to be occurring naturally in the body in conjunction with the body’s enzyme (C9 ) and catalytic RNA – would seem of its own to be a great boon to humanity. It is the inevitability of the destruction of intermediate bodily mutations ‘/ chimera ( resulting from germ-line therapy ) formed , and further unknown consequences for future progeny – possibly resulting in undesirable personality / intelligence defects – that should so alarm society.
    My reach as a non-geneticist can only go as far as realising that the genome of just one single cell of the human body contains countless possibilities of gene ‘ connections ‘ around A.T.G.C. groupings ( That’s as far as I am prepared to go – feel free to correct me ! ) . So, who knows how far the area of intelligence/ personality in the brain may accidentally be affected during this procedure.
    Christ’ s Church on Earth is of a singular integrity ( mystical living body )….. ”If one part is hurt , all the parts share its pain . And if one part is honoured , all the parts share its joy .” Cor. 12:26.

  9. Brendan says:

    St. Joseph- We do well to remember the late world renowned paediatrician and geneticist Blessed Jerome Lejeune , who discovered the link between diseases and chromosomal abnormalities , and a pioneer of stem cell research from 1981 on wards – a great Catholic scientist.

  10. John Thomas says:

    Well, your words, Quentin, make me think of those things I take for granted regarding science/human knowledge, and its gowth:
    – What humans (scientists, in this case) CAN do, they will eventually do.
    – What can be used for bad ends, in advances in human knowledge (ie. most of them), will eventually be used in this way, by someone.
    – Intentions may in all other (ie. most) cases be of the very best – but irrelevant to the actual outcomes.
    – The people with power in our societies do not ultimately, actually, value human life (otherwise they would not have allowed mass abortion).
    – “Slippery slopes”, we well know (and are constantly being told), do not necessarily have to occur, but can indeed occur, and often do.

    • Quentin says:

      John, I suspect you have used a variation on your email address — which is why I have had to moderate. Sometimes it is necessary to change one’s email address — but it’s an extra job for me, which I would rather avoid.

  11. Brendan says:

    I remember him in the 90’s as a great pro-lifer when it seemed to me that genetics was dominated completely by secularists . It’s no coincidence at that time as a friend of Pope St.John Paul , that neither were given a Nobel Prize for their contribution to peace and science respectively.

  12. Brendan says:

    Having been directed by Quentin to ‘ linkages ‘ on this subject ( I detect a playful sense of human here ) , and like the next person I can be a glutton for knowledge – at risk of being choked to death on any more esoteric science – I will keep my comments on a more palatable plain.
    Will this feeble call from the world’s experts for a moratorium on expanding research into ‘ gene editing ‘ ( CSPR/CAS9 ) become reality ? I fear not. China leads the world in this area . Can we really see , ostensibly an atheist government , see any other Country ‘ steal a march ‘ on it in this science ? Britain is a world leader in the same area since breakthroughs in the development of ‘ mitochondrial DNA ‘ confirming its prominence in this area.
    This from Professor Darren Griffin , a geneticist at Kent University which seems to mirror the prevailing mood……. ” there’s a lot of things we do wrong , but on balance we don’t go in for scare stories quite so much ; we take things on merits ……….It’ easy to complain about a regulator [ HFEA ] , but when you look at the big picture you see the U.K. is leading the way. ‘
    Multiply those comments to most of genetic science , and we can see why it is important not to leave science JUST to the scientists !

  13. Brendan says:

    Alan – I see .No alternative need be dismissed as long as in the mind of the believer it is in accord with the ethics/ moral teaching of Christs Church. To list the number of scientific discoveries by Catholic scientists ( let alone Christian Scientists ) throughout history would take too long here for our discourse.
    I refer back to Professor ( Blessed ) Jerome Lejeune. He pioneered adult stem cell research – as opposed to what he saw as unethical research on human embryos – to identify numerous chromosomal disorders ( where little on none were discovered at the time by using ‘ human embryos ‘ .). This fact was mysteriously omitted by the media for a long time .His work lead the way to present use of ‘ gene -editing ‘ through which humanity will undoubtedly benefit I believe by applying Catholic ethics to future work in this area to eradicate some diseases altogether.
    Lejeune’s wife stated that he was mortified when he discovered that his work could/ was used to facilitate human abortion. In our ‘fallen’ state there is a universal law that every human endeavour/ discovery can be used for the common good or ill of mankind. Why tempt God when we have solid evidence that His way works – accepting that ‘ faith ‘ is a first requisite to good reason.

  14. Brendan says:

    ST. Joseph – Thanks for those points . I’ll take not of Dr. Hamilton.I was in the company of a close friend of my twin sister. He seems very interested in ‘ faith’ with ‘reason’ journey. I introduced him to Secondsightblog.

  15. Brendan says:

    Why can’t we leave science ( genetics ) just to the scientists ? – Just ‘ google ‘ an American website ..” GeneCopoeia – Safe harbor gene knock-in kits and clones .” I have an unpleasant premonition here of future ‘ scientocracies ‘ on seeing this ‘ sales ‘ site. Oh , for a geneticist on this ‘ blog ‘ !

  16. Brendan says:

    Alan – No one beats anyone over the head with a big stick to quell individual conscience. As a Catholic I take ‘ prima facie ‘ ; persuaded by my informed good conscience from faith and belief in The Church – emanating from the Petrine Promise – that abortion is always wrong , and that contraception is against the true unitive act of sexual union of man and woman which pro-creates accordance with Gods will .
    This has always been through the history of the Church ; formulated in recent times by the Vicar of Christ through its Bishops. Latterly, from Blessed Pope Paul vi through to Pope Francis ; society is impelled to consider more and more a situation coming to light , where in an exceptional life or death judgement to save the life of the mother, a procedure to abort the foetus or embryo before it can survive outside the uterus , is allowed… eg. ectopic embryo.
    It is clear that while ‘ contraception ‘ after procreation using abortifacients is not permitted because of the possibility of the presence of ‘ new life ‘ within the mother ; the Church has moved its position in extreme , out of the ordinary situations through world events , as alluded to by recent Church declarations.
    Personally as Catholic , this reinforces my individual faith and conscience when I think of all the errors that would have spread more widely with negative consequences post-Vatican ii – notwithstanding sometimes our presumed individual consciences – if The Church had decided on a different course.
    It is through The Church in particular that we discern the Mercy of God overtime………which surpasses all understanding.

    • St.Joseph says:

      You are correct in what you say
      The Apostle Creed tells us that ‘the only Son of God was conceived by the Holy Spirit!’ The Hail Mary tells us Blessed is the fruit of thy womb ‘Jesus’.
      Conception is when the sperm reaches the egg and a human being is created , the beginning of ‘our life’.
      It is not only our faith that teaches us that but science. How can anyone disagree with that truth?

      • Brendan says:

        Just so St. Joseph. Praise Be !

      • Alan says:

        St Joseph – “It is not only our faith that teaches us that but science. How can anyone disagree with that truth?”

        I would say that it is not quite the truth. Clearly conception isn’t the point of creation of “a human” as sometimes it may become two or more humans. What that means with respect to being human or an individual or identity I don’t know. Perhaps nothing much.

      • Quentin says:

        On the contrary. There are moral theologians of note who argue that, because it is possible for the one conceptus to develop into two embryos (identical twins), we cannot speak about an individual human being until about 14 days following biological conception.

  17. St.Joseph says:

    What about non identical twins.
    I am of the belief that the soul enter our bodies at conception.The beginning of our being!
    I began then, if my mother miscarried I would hope to go to heaven
    When teaching natural family planning we allow 24 hours in case another ovulation takes place from the other ovary.
    We can not read the mind of God and judge for ourselves just to suit the convenience of ‘science’
    I am out now for chemo so will continue later!

    • Brendan says:

      Quentin is right St.Joseph on one point . I am one of dizygotic twins , non-identical with my sister ,being conceived in the womb when two female ova where fertilised by two separate male gametes ( sperm cells ). Twins formed from separation of a mono-zygotic embryo to form ostensibly two identical embryos , does raise at least the question not of the ‘ viablity ‘ but the ‘ individual ‘ status of the human monozygote embryo its internal separation. In philosophical terms which Quentin is alluding too, and I believe was held by St. Thomas Aquinas and later argued by modified – Thomist theory ; there seems a good argument that because of the singular individuality of the ‘ soul ‘ that it could not be infused unto final ‘splitting ‘ of a human embryo had been achieved – henceforth development of a human embryo ( foetus ).
      In theological terms it matters at what point human life begins – the whole of humanity knows – at ‘ conception ‘ ! No matter how later embryos are ‘ divided ‘ ; all that is necessary for the viability and on-going maturity of this human being in the human zygote after fertilisation 9 conception ).
      We have here …. ” not a potential human being , but a human beung with potential. ”……….from womb to natural death.

      • Quentin says:

        As you mention Aquinas (although I had some modern theologians in mind) we may remember that, following Aristotelian teaching, it was thought, up to the 18th century, that the conceptus had first a vegetable soul, replaced by an animal soul, then replaced by a human soul. This was reckoned to be achieved by 40 days for the male foetus and 80 days for the female. (According to Aquinas the conception of females was a fortunate mistake.)

        The Church taught then, as it does now, that destruction of the conceptus at any age in unlawful since it destroys God’s purpose to make a human being.

  18. Brendan says:

    Quentin – Thank you for filling in the blanks. I see even the ‘ Angelic Doctor ‘ couldn’t quite get it right !

  19. St.Joseph says:

    Question.when Our Blessed Mother conceived the Child Jesus at the moment when Her egg was released was He not then Who He Is?
    An egg only lives 24 hrs after ovulation if it is only 10 to 14 days was Jesus not considered to be human until then .?
    Just thought.

    • Quentin says:

      You will see from my previous reply that for 18 centuries the concept of a being having an immaculate soul was not relevant since only a human soul can be marked by original sin. So it’s a smaller step to claim that for the 14 days before the conceptus is established as an individual human being, original sin would also be irrelevant. However your view that the zygote, which is what emerges from the binding of egg and sperm, is a human being is shared the Church and indeed many others. And the Church requires that we base our moral decisions on this assumption.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Thank you for your reply.
        I understand what Holy Mother Church teaches.
        Faith is a wonderful gift, but I thought you might know what the scientific thinking would be of Christian science on Jesus’s conception.
        No harm in thinking!!

  20. John Candido says:

    I think it is better to look at these advances in genetics as another advance of science that can be used for good or for nefarious outcomes. Intelligence is a resource or tool but in life it isn’t everything and neither is it a certain predictor of success however it is defined. It doesn’t automatically translate to attributes such as insight or commonsense or maturity, stability friendliness, charm or empathy. And it certainly does not translate into attributes of character such as integrity or loyalty to friends and family members. What about patience, forebearance, dedication or endurance? Not related at all to intelligence. There are broader questions to consider. If everybody had a high intelligence could these people do ordinary work in trades or factory work, cleaning or gardening?

    If geneticists can increase everyone’s intelligence, what about augmenting character traits as mentioned previously? Why not increase goodness in everybody by making people more generous, putting others first, people who favour social justice etc. Why look at intelligence in isolation to maturity, life experience and other attributes of goodness?

    Why would any person want to increase the amount of selfishness in the world by engineering the human personality to have a predeliction for an overt cynicism or an overbearing self-centredness? The point that I am trying to make is that whatever unbalanced or inappropriate plans some people may have for the human race there will always be a majority who will not agree or acced to it. There are many people of good will who would be aghast at such plans and seek to put a stop to it. There will always be a plethora of theologians, philosophers and ethicists who would be opposed to nefarious plans by any group of people. The church and the fourth estate will always figure in such considerations. Democratic politicians mostly seek what is in the public interest, who are responsive to what most people want. When pressed most people want what is good for their family and the society they live in apart from their own desires. I am not afraid of these scientific advancements and look forward to whatever advantages that informed communities can gain from them.

    Sent from my iPhone

  21. G.D. says:

    J.C. “Why would any person want to increase the amount of selfishness in the world by engineering the human personality to have a predeliction for an overt cynicism or an overbearing self-centredness? The point that I am trying to make is that whatever unbalanced or inappropriate plans some people may have for the human race there will always be a majority who will not agree or acced to it.”

    Your sentiments are after my own heart John, but the proof of society as it is developing proves us wrong. The majority are for themselves by whatever means they can.
    Genetic manipulation is just one more way to make ‘in our own image’ to suit ‘ourselves’.

    People are (especially ‘leaders’ political, including most democratic governments, or otherwise) intent on making society suit their own selfish needs and narrow minded ethos. Social and psychological manipulations, and mind numbing drugs, abound – in order to keep the majority of us ‘in line’ with what is best for them that ‘lead’ us.
    Many under the guise ‘what is best for all’. But it just ain’t working like that. It’s going in the opposite direction.

    We, as a race, have had the ability to irradiate poverty for ever, but it’s on the increase.
    And not because of material poverty or logistical reasons – there are none – it’s to do with greed and ego control by the few over the many.
    Create a society where those that are needed, AND are complacent to ‘my ways’ are rewarded, the rest can forage as best they can. If they cause trouble for us they can be dealt with. Those having a modicum of ‘power’ who are outspoken against ‘my way’ can be silenced, and ridiculed.

    Yes there are many people of good will. Many of which are blinded or restrained by the ‘systems’ put in place to perpetuate ‘my ways’. If they step over the line …… they can be dealt with.
    It has ever been thus!
    Genetic manipulation is the icing on the cake.

    All the above statements can be ‘proved’ by many real life incidents, and studies done, some are still available on Web sites …………….
    . But i don’t need to look them up.
    Films of serious social comment abound too.

    • Alan says:

      G.D. – “We, as a race, have had the ability to irradiate poverty for ever, but it’s on the increase.”

      I can find data to suggest that the absolute number of people in the world living in poverty has risen – along with the total population of course – but not an increase in the percentage of people as compared to the whole. That seems to have decreased. For example a couple of the reports I found included the following –

      – in the past 25 years or so the number of people undernourished (the main cause of which is reported to be poverty) has gone down from nearly one in five to about one in 10.
      -In the past 100 years the percentage of people living in poverty has dropped from just over 80% to just over 60% (by the measure used – adjusted income per day).

      We may well have been able to do much better than this but I can’t see any data suggesting things are getting worse in this respect. Perhaps I’m looking in the wrong place. Can you point to one of the sites you remember?

      • Quentin says:

        If you and G.D. want to get a really good handle on what we tend to think about world poverty and the reality – and what has changed and could change — go to . Yes, it’ll take you an hour – but you may find that it’s the most interesting hour in front of the little screen which you have had for a long time. Let no one express a view about world poverty without having seen this.

      • Alan says:

        Seemed quite similar to a T.E.D. talk I had seen previously. Except for the real life examples included in this video. The end of extreme poverty by 2030 a possibility! We could aim higher, but it does look like progress.

  22. G.D. says:

    Very positive and encouraging for extreme poverty. Excellent stuff. The more of it the better.

    I can’t categorise ‘poor’ as a statistic though.

    When two parents need to work over forty hours a week, to sustain a standard of living for them and their two children, well below the majority of the society they live in, they are poor.
    And kept that way because of the society that perpetuates that situation.

    Poverty is about a social (dis)order 1. creating systems of inequality. 2. where economic worth is the worth of a person 3. where more is better. 4. with an unconscious ethos of ‘if you can’t pay for it you don’t deserve it’ ….. and such like attitudes.
    That’s the reality we have created and continue to do so. A world where some are considered (wrongly) better than others. It’s all ego – and comes from all of us.
    You will always have the poor with you …… until the majority deal with that sta-tus quo

    As i said in my earlier post ……. ‘not because of material poverty or logistical reasons – there are none – it’s to do with greed from (i now add ‘everyone’) and ego control by the few over the many’.
    You will always have the poor with you …… until the majority deal with that sta-tus quo

    • St.Joseph says:

      I have just watched the Video, thank you Quentin.
      What struck me in the beginning was the attitude to family life and the happiness they felt towards each other as a family;
      Yes the progress is very good when one sees how it is working in their lives.
      I don’t wish to pour cold water on the situation, but by becoming too western with material goods, I wonder if family life will deteriorate in to a downward fashion, reminding of the words of Jesus-‘You will not always have me’!
      There was no mention of the Mission’s in that part of the world.
      I don’t mean to put a wet blanket on it all, but the mention of contraceptives is not a cause for spiritual improvement!

    • St.Joseph says:

      If anyone is interested EWTN this evening at 7 pm.there is programme how Nigerian Bishops respond to the family crisis in Africa. Nigerian Bishops plead for relief services to focus on providing clean drinking water and food for the poor.

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