Most Americans oppose altering genes of unborn babies to prevent serious inherited diseases and, especially, to enhance the baby’s appearance or intelligence, according to a new poll conducted by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health researchers and STAT. Despite the opposition to altering genes before birth, many of those polled looked favorably on gene therapy to treat such diseases as Huntington’s disease or cystic fibrosis in children and adults.
“They’re not against scientists trying to improve [genome-editing] technologies,” Robert Blendon, Richard L. Menschel Professor of Public Health and Political Analysis, said in a February 11, 2016 STAT article. Perhaps they realize there one day may be a reason to use such technologies, but for now, “people are concerned about editing the genes of those who are yet unborn,” he said.
Many of the 1,000 adults polled reported knowing little about “germline editing”—changing the genetic characteristics of unborn babies. “If people don’t know too much, it appears to be a very high-risk thing to do, messing around with the genes of unborn babies,” research scientist John Benson, who helped analyze the poll results, said in the STAT article.
The poll is part of a monthly collaboration between STAT and Harvard Chan to explore emerging issues in health and medicine and gauge Americans’ views on the issues.
Views on genetic testing
A February 12, 2016 STAT article on the poll discussed the participants’ views on genetic testing.* The poll found only a small number of Americans have had genetic testing to learn their own or their future children’s risk of disease. A majority, however, said one day they would consider genetic testing to determine their risk of developing cancer or Alzheimer’s. In a separate poll commissioned by STAT, doctors reported being less than enthusiastic about genetic testing for the general public for a range of reasons, including expense. (For more on the poll’s findings on genetic testing, see story below.)
Read the full poll results
Read the February 11, 2016 article: STAT-Harvard Poll: Americans say no to ‘designer babies’
Read a February 12, 2016 article on the poll: Consumers aren’t wild about genetic testing — nor are doctors
*Article updated February 12, 2016