Pew Poll Shows Split on Gene Editing Uses

 Improved gene-editing technology has intensified the debate over its appropriate use. A majority of Americans think it’s okay to eliminate a congenital disorder, but not okay to create a designer baby with higher intelligence.  (Illustration Credit: Jenna Luecke and David Steadman/University of Texas at Austin)

Improved gene-editing technology has intensified the debate over its appropriate use. A majority of Americans think it’s okay to eliminate a congenital disorder, but not okay to create a designer baby with higher intelligence. (Illustration Credit: Jenna Luecke and David Steadman/University of Texas at Austin)

Technology can work wonders. It also can generate mind-numbing questions, which is the case for gene editing.

According to a new Pew Research survey, a majority of Americans support gene editing to eliminate serious congenital illnesses before birth, but have serious reservations about using the technology to “make a child more intelligent.”

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The prospect of designer babies has been a topic of debate for decades. Now the possibility is closer to reality because of improved gene-splicing capability. Pew notes that its previous surveys reflect a similar ambivalence to gene-editing technology that turns on its intended use.

The debate over gene editing ranges from medical to ethical policy considerations. It has religious and political overtones as well. Pew says “highly religious Americans” are more likely to view gene editing as “taking medical technology too far.” An even broader concern shows up in polling over the use of embryonic testing to perfect gene editing technology.

There also are differences of opinion between men and women. Pew says men are more apt than women to view gene editing for babies as appropriate. Not surprisingly, people with higher levels of science knowledge tend to regard gene editing as appropriate.

Supporters and skeptics share a common perspective that negative effects of gene editing, such as unintended health impacts, will eclipse positive effects. The exception are people with science backgrounds who have more faith in positive effects. Atheists see more positive effects as likely, too.