Bioethics Blogs

Let’s talk about the ethics of germline modification

Gregor Wolbring conveys the need for clarity in the call for public discussion about human germline genetic modification.

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Human germline genetic modification, which involves making genetic changes that will be passed on to future generations, is once again in the news.

Mid-March 2015, in anticipation of a publication about the use of CRISPR/Cas9 to edit the genome of human embryos, the journal Nature published two articles. There was a brief commentary “Don’t edit the human germ line” calling for a voluntary moratorium on germline modification, and a news item “Scientists sound alarm over DNA editing of human embryos” explaining that while some scientists want to ban germline alterations, others want the work to proceed. The anticipated study confirming the use of gene-editing techniques to modify the human germline was published online in April 2015. Various media outlets reported on this research and the Science Media Centre published the views of various “experts” on this development – some saying it should be allowed, others saying it should not be allowed.

Various commentators, including the authors of “Don’t edit the human germ line” have called for an open public discussion. I find this commendable! Unfortunately, despite all the articles and comments published recently, it is not clear: (i) where the public discussion should take place; (ii) what exactly the public discussion should focus on; and (iii) who should participate in the public discussion.

Henry Jamyn Brooks, The First Meeting of the London County Council in the County Halls Spring Gardens (1889), (c) City of London Corporation; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

As to the “where”: It depends on the envisioned purpose of the discussion.

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.