By Jason Shin
In typically Korean public buses, posters emphasize that excellent grades are synonymous with brighter futures. In the streets, advertisements promoting facial perfection permeate the walls. As a result of continuous exposure to such empty promises, academic excellence and physical attractiveness has created a culture of competition. Such trends are being reflected in the medical field, where a recent advancement in biotechnology promises to provide the capability to modify genetic information. However, in a culture that demands results at all costs, many wonder if this technology is a good influence to society in the first place.
CRISPR technology allows scientists to modify genetic information for the creation of desirable traits. In short, the technology targets certain cells in our body and recreates genetic information with artificially created counterparts. This would allow scientists to change innate characteristics such as height and appearance. This practice is done in the embryo stage—one of the earliest stages of life.
On one hand, the development of CRISPR technology would allow for better understanding of genetics. This improvement in the field of biology will likely lead to the creation of other technologies, such as more efficient drugs and operation methods.
On the other hand, the development of CRISPR technology would reinforce the normative values of beauty that society has installed. What defines a “good” trait? What defines handsomeness or beauty? Korea’s beauty standards revolve around small faces, big eyes, and a v-shape jawline. Men are expected to be muscular, tall, and have a sharp jawline; women are expected to have a slim and curvy figure. So, when parents explain their desired traits to scientists, they are only contributing more to the existing beauty standards. There would be a constant thrive for perfection to conform to such beauty standards. Other ethical questions arise as well. Do parents have a right to decide their child’s physical traits?
It is clear that this technology is unlike others. CRISPR’s implications and power make it a distinct anomaly from the other technologies, and its controversial nature has medical organizations and national governments denouncing this development. Now, it is time for us to decide. Should we continue with this technology? Do the risks outweigh the benefits? What does this tell us?