Renowned Harvard Medical School geneticist George Church has focused his work on reversing the effects of ageing, helping humans become immune to viruses, and eradicating genetic diseases. He’s hoping to come closer to accomplishing at least one of those goals with a disturbing dating app that swipes right on eugenics.
On Sunday, CBS’s 60 Minutes aired a story about Church and his work. The segment begins by showing Church’s researchers handling experiments that use Church’s own DNA. In one such effort, the scientists are trying to grow organs out of Church’s genes.
“It’s considered more ethical for students to do experiments on their boss than vice versa,” Church explains in an interview. “And it’s good to do it on me rather than some stranger because I’m as up to speed as you can be on the risks and the benefits. I’m properly consented. ”
In a clip that did not air on national television, but was published online, Church spoke about taking money from a man who was not concerned with consent. When 60 Seconds correspondent Scott Pelley asked if Church regretted taking money from convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, the geneticist responded that he regretted “not knowing more about the donor.”
“I think in general when people [take] so-called tainted money it can be used for good,” Church said, claiming that money from Big Tobacco “was used for good things.”
“I think the issue is more a matter of not validating them–not calling it out as soon as you see it,” Church adds. “When you first hear about it it doesn’t sound like it’s something serious and it’s only recently that we found out that it was something serious—or become aware how serious it was.”
As NBC News originally reported, Church had meetings and calls with Epstein multiple times after Epstein’s 2008 plea of guilt for procuring a minor for prostitution. In an August interview with Stat News, Church apologised for meeting with and taking money from Epstein, and blamed the scientific community’s acceptance of Epstein’s money, in part, on “a lot of nerd tunnel vision.”
In the segment that aired on CBS, 60 Seconds called Church “a role model for the next generation” because he “co-founded more than 35 startups.” One of these companies is building a dating app based on ideal DNA pairings. The goal is to screen out sexual partnerships that cold create a child with genetic diseases.
“You wouldn’t find out who you’re not compatible with,” Church explained to 60 Minutes. “You’ll just find out who you are compatible with.”
Pelley then asked if Church believed that we could eradicate all genetic diseases if all people planned their breeding based on genetic sequencing.
“Right,” Church confirmed. “It’s 7,000 diseases. It’s about 5 per cent of the population. It’s about a trillion dollars a year, worldwide.”
To be absolutely clear, this is eugenics, and the anxiety it provokes is even more pronounced with the focus on breeding instead of simply being theoretical genetic research.