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Canadians split on gene editing

A microscopic image of DNA. - pixabay.com
A microscopic image of DNA. - pixabay.com

Canadians are "divided" about editing the genetic makeup of human embryos but most are opposed to the concept of so-called designer babies, according to a new poll from the Angus Reid Institute.

"In general, Canadians see editing the genes of embryos as acceptable if it’s done to cure the babies born from those embryos of life-threatening diseases," the non-profit firm said in a news release.

"They’re less certain, however, about the acceptability of gene editing in other medical circumstances — such as to give children immunity to disease or to cure conditions that aren’t life-threatening. Further, they’re decidedly against editing genes for cosmetic reasons."

Forty per cent say the risks outweigh the potential benefits, 32 per cent say potential benefits outweigh the risks and 28 per cent are uncertain.

The highest acceptable scenario, with 73 per cent approving, was when gene editing would be used to cure a life-threatening genetic disease (13 per cent were against, 14 per cent were uncertain. The highest unacceptable scenario (81 per cent were opposed) was the concept of designer babies — using gene editing to give a child a preferred physical characteristic, such as a certain eye colour. Nine per cent thought genetic manipulation for cosmetic reasons was acceptable, and 10 per cent weren't sure.

The pollster says that, overall, "age and gender are key drivers of opinion on this issue, with younger men most likely to see gene editing as acceptable and older women most likely to see it as unacceptable."

The survey was conducted online from April 18-23, 2019, and carries a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. 

Click here to view the complete poll results.

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