Dominic Cummings said Brexit will free UK to ‘push frontiers’ of gene research
Boris Johnson’s top aide said Brexit could free up Britain to pioneer controversial gene research.
Dominic Cummings predicted new methods will “revolutionise” IVF, allowing would-be parents to avoid embryos with “disease risks and cognitive problems”.
In a 4,000-word blog last February about ‘genomic prediction’, he urged Britain to “push the frontiers” of the field – despite what he said would be “hysterical” arguments about “things like IQ and social mobility”.
He added: “Post-Brexit Britain will be outside [the EU’s] jurisdiction and able to make faster and better decisions about regulating technology like genomics, AI and robotics.”
A Labour frontbencher claimed the practice was “eugenics” with one MP from the party accusing him of trying to “play God”. No10 was approached for comment.
It gives a useful insight into Mr Cummings' thinking on IQ and genetics after he wrote his blog post about a topic called ‘genomic prediction’.
This is where embryos are excluded from IVF based on markers in their DNA. The practice is welcomed by some as a way of avoiding lifelong illness, but has provoked an ethical debate about where to draw the line.
One US-based firm, Genomic Prediction, offers parents screening to identify “genetically normal” embryos. This includes weeding out those at risk of disease. But in 2018 the firm also developed testing to show an embryo’s risk of a low IQ.
Co-founder Stephen Hsu, who Mr Cummings praised and has appeared with at No10, said it would only be used to eliminate embryos with a “mental disability”. But Mr Hsu accepted people may in future select ‘designer’ intelligent babies, telling New Scientist:“I think people are going to demand that. If we don’t do it, some other company will.”
On his blog, Mr Cummings quoted research saying genes have a “substantial influence” on people’s IQ, and said genomic tests – cheaper all the time – can now predict people’s heights “within a few cm”.
He focused mainly on physical health, saying the “useful predictions” could avoid embryos developing diabetes, breast or prostate cancer in later life. But he added: “We will also be able to make predictions about outliers in cognitive abilities (the high and low ends).”
He warned against relying on ‘early years’ programmes like Sure Start, which he said was based on flawed evidence, to improve children’s lives. Instead he urged politicians to make policy decisions “on the basis of rational thinking and good science.”
He added: "China is pushing very hard on genomics… America has political and regulatory barriers holding it back on genomics that are much weaker here.
“Britain cannot stop the development of such science. Britain can choose to be a backwater, to ignore such things and listen to MPs telling fairy stories while the Chinese plough ahead, or it can try to lead. But there is no hiding from the truth."
Labour's Shadow Communities Secretary Andrew Gwynne claimed: "However Cummings tries to dance around his beliefs – it is clear that this is eugenics. Eugenics is a long-discredited and dangerous pseudo-science and should have no place in the 21st century, let alone be held by Number 10."
Catholic Labour MP Conor McGinn added: “These worrying and dangerous views have no place in our society, never mind at the heart of government. He might be able to play the Cabinet, but he can’t be allowed to play God.”
The criticism came as No10 faced questions yesterday about how aide Andrew Sabisky – who quit his role on Monday night – was hired in Mr Cummings’ appeal for “weirdos and misfits”.
Mr Sabisky was accused of supporting eugenics after writing in 2014 that long-term contraception could be enforced at puberty to stop a “permanent underclass”.
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