Poll: Most Americans oppose ‘designer babies’

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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.