RECENT news of breakthroughs in gene editing techniques that offer up the possibility of the virtual eradication of gene-related diseases and conditions will be welcomed by most.

There can be no doubt, however, that there are genuine ethical and scientific considerations that must be debated and thought through here. And though there will be concerns expressed about the possibility of “designer babies”, it is worth noting at the outset that a) technologies are never un-invented; b) technologies are themselves morally neutral – it’s how we use them that counts; and c) the very wealthy will almost certainly make use of gene editing technology in the future – if they are not already – to genetically enhance their own children.

From that point of view we need to set up a framework of international law that sets out how this new technology should be used.

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Once the technology is in use and showing benefit for medical purposes, and the public can see and understand the benefits, all parents, regardless of income, should be able to use genetic editing to improve non-cosmetic aspects of their child’s genetic heritage. This would/should allow for increases in intelligence, emotional empathy for others, energy levels and drive, but be illegal for sexual selection, or selection of racial or sexual orientation characteristics, as well as trivial things like eye colour, height, hair colour, etc.

I would like to offer up for public debate the following six principles around which a legal and ethical framework for this exciting, but potentially dangerous, new technology could be evolved by scientists and lawmakers.

1) Precautionary Principle: all genetic edits are thoroughly tested and monitored to a high and agreed international scientific standard before becoming available for general use; 2) Universal Principle: these techniques should be available to all through public health systems and government-sponsored medical research regardless of ability to pay.

3) Voluntary Principle: all genetic modification is parent- or physician-led, voluntary not mandatory, and society respects those who do not wish their children to be gene edited or enhanced.

4) Anonymity/Equality Principle: children born enhanced and un-enhanced are indistinguishable in the eyes of the law and the state. No public record is kept, other than general statistical information. It must be illegal to discriminate in any way between enhanced and un-enhanced children.

5) Compassion Principle: persons have rights; diseases and debilitating impairments and conditions have not. It is the latter we are looking to eventually wipe out, not the former. Society must continue to treat people with illnesses and conditions as people of worth and respect, ensure their care is properly resourced, and their rights respected.

6) Genetic Diversity Within a Paradigm of Genetic Equality Principle: Yes to gene therapies and early embryo medical interventions, yes to properly thought out and tested voluntary enhancements of the various intelligences, emotional empathy, and general health and well-being. No to selection or enhancement on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, race, religiosity, increased sporting or military prowess, or secondary features such as height, eye colour, hair colour, etc.

There needs to be a diversity protocol that ensures while gene editing can improve human well-being and the genetic equality thereof across the species, there is a “diversity of genome” line that is not crossed.
Steve Arnott


Breaking free from shackles of history police

REGARDING Dave Coull’s response to Catriona Stevenson’s history police, I am reminded of my experience as a schoolboy in Scotland in the 50s and 60s.

Having achieved a very high mark in history in term exams, I dropped the subject in favour of geography. The head of department sent for me and asked me why.

I told him that, having discovered the history section in my local library I was no longer prepared to be lied to by his staff, whether by omission or deliberate distortion of facts.

The man blushed and offered no response.

Like many of my peers I was subjected to a curriculum designed to suppress awareness of my own culture and history, force-fed received pronunciation by both the education system and the BBC and even struck with the Lochgelly Tawse for using my native language.

The real miracle of the independence movement, and the reason it will succeed, is the fact that mass brainwashing failed and we still know that we are Scots.
Les Hunter

IT seems the baby box knockers have a new champion in the form of Francine Bates the CEO of the Lullaby Trust, a very worthwhile charitable organisation that attempts to reduce SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). Her “concerns” were picked up and widely reported in the media – none more so than the BBC Scotland who preferred the non-story to our fishing rights being bartered away to Denmark, or the entirely innocent Michele Thomson story.

So what exactly were the CEO’s concerns? She says: “There is no evidence Finnish-style baby boxes prevent sudden infant death syndrome or cot death.” She goes on to raise concerns about their increasing popularity in the UK and that mattresses should be fire proof.

So let’s get this straight. She’s worried because no-one can prove that the boxes save lives. As I understand it, it is the contents of the box that are of value to mothers, using it for a sleeping baby is optional and I’m sure there are many poor food-bank-using mothers who would wonder what all the fuss is about and be only too delighted with the baby box. Did the CEO want to ban the boxes? No. Were they unsafe, a danger to babies? No. Do the boxes break British Safety Standards? No. So what was the real purpose of all of this extraordinary publicity that the charity received?
Mike Herd

THERE is considerable effort being put into writing a workable Provisional Constitution for Scotland. In 2012 a draft constitution for Scotland was submitted at Holyrood but received no support. Dr Elliot Bulmer, then Research Director at the Scottish Constitution Commission, mentored the original drafting team.

Currently, a small team of professionals from across Scotland are reviewing that draft constitution, led by the non-partisan Centre for Scottish Constitutional Studies. When the review is complete the intent is to seek to convert to an internet version and encourage national debate. The object of the review is to create an updated provisional constitution for Scotland that can be readily understood, debated and agreed by the Scots before Scotland regains its sovereignty.

The draft constitution can be read here.
Robert Ingram
Centre for Scottish Constitutional Studies