Bioethics Blogs

The moral implications of genome editing in 300 words?

This year, the Council is starting a new project exploring ethical issues around genome editing. In this post, Dr Peter Mills sets out some of the issues and questions that might be considered and calls for contributions to the project. To register your interest in being involved or kept informed about this work, please email genedit@nuffieldbioethics.org

        edit (ʹed.ɪt) v.t. Prepare (written material) for publication by correcting,         condensing, or otherwise modifying it.

I know a thing or two about editing. My first professional job was as an editor for a venerable London publishing house. Later, on different career tack, I saw how it could be both comforting and seductive to speak of the chemical bases adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine as the letters of the ‘genetic alphabet’. I once visited an exhibition where the letters A, C, G and T were incomprehensibly recombined in minuscule type in 46 heavy, printed volumes that evoked the human genome for me like a bookcase in Borges’ library of Babel. Genetics as the language of life, genes as its propositions, and the living organism itself as an argument mounted by nature against entropy and chaos.  I have since learned to beware, even to disparage such metaphors; they are not bad metaphors but reasoning with metaphors is an errant and undisciplined pursuit.

The choice of the ‘genome editing’ rubric is perhaps a little coy. The reference to ‘editing’ irresistibly invites the comparison with authorship and suggests a more humble corrective. But when genome ‘editing’ is set not against divine ‘authorship’ but against aeons of evolutionary ‘trial and error’ it seems potentially far more influential, and influential far more rapidly, than random mutations and their lengthy embedding through ‘natural’ selection.

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.