Bioethics Blogs

Genome editing poses ethical problems that we cannot ignore

In the future, our DNA could be different by design. DNA by Seamartini Graphics/www.shutterstock.com

The ability to precisely and accurately change almost any part of any genome, even in complex species such as humans, may soon become a reality through genome editing. But with great power comes great responsibility – and few subjects elicit such heated debates about moral rights and wrongs.

Although genetic engineering techniques have been around for some time, genome editing can achieve this with lower error rates, more simply and cheaply than ever – although the technology is certainly not yet perfect.

Genome editing offers a greater degree of control and precision in how specific DNA sequences are changed. It could be used in basic science, for human health, or improvements to crops. There are a variety of techniques but clustered regularly inter-spaced short palindromic repeats, or CRISPR, is perhaps the foremost.

CRISPR has prompted recent calls for a genome editing moratorium from a group of concerned US academics. Because it is the easiest technique to set up and so could be quickly and widely adopted, the fear is that it may be put into use far too soon – outstripping our understanding of its safety implications and preventing any opportunity to think about how such powerful tools should be controlled.

The ethics of genetics, revisited

Ethical concerns over genetic modification are not new, particularly when it comes to humans. While we don’t think genome editing gives rise to any completely new ethical concerns, there is more to gene editing than just genetic modification.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.