Bioethics Blogs

Gene Editing—Trying to Get Specific

In a comment last week, Mark McQuain pointed out the article “Engineering the Perfect Baby” in the MIT Technology Review.  Freely accessible online, it describes, in non-technical terms, several of the routes that genetic editing may follow.  Perhaps the most explosive:  adult skin cell transformed into an induced pleuripotent stem cell that then is used to give rise to germ cells that are then genetically edited.  (Note that a treatment for infertility can be envisioned by this route, possibly not requiring any gene editing.)  Nearly everyone speaking publicly is calling for a moratorium on attempts to bring a genetically-edited human to birth.  Some expand that to call for a moratorium on the basic research into altering germline cells.  Reasons for their positions vary, but there are enough committed enthusiasts that basic research is likely to go forward.  Read the article.

Courtney Thiele and Steve Phillips commented insightfully on Lewis’s The Abolition of Man.  Steve’s 2012 article in Ethics and Medicine is a reminder of how much has already been written about the ethics of germline modification.  Read it if you can get it.  (Steve sent me a copy directly.) 

But there is a risk in focusing too much on “enhancement,” rather than on germline modifications to prevent/treat/eliminate certain genetic diseases.   And that risk is this: the technology can no longer be easily dismissed by virtue of its being far off in the future.  It is pretty much here.  So the question is:  is it everywhere and in all cases morally impermissible, in principle, to alter the human germline, or would a general moral prohibition admit of exceptions?

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.