“It’s peace and quiet that we need to go back to work again.” – Bob Dylan, Joey
In recent posts I have been following the contours of the flourishing debate on genome editing as it spills from the laboratory into the world of public opinion and public policy. Last week it was the turn of the Hinxton Group to enter the fray with a new consensus statement. To all intents and purposes the statement is about two things, a new kind of technology, on the one hand, and a morally equivocal practice, on the other: Genome Editing Technologies and Human Germline Genetic Modification. It’s presented in two main parts that reflect this distinction, along with a scene-setting prologue and an epilogue on the importance of governance and meaningful engagement.
The exigency behind the statement is the broad and rapid uptake of the CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing system (CC9) in research. Although it acknowledges that CC9 is transformative in terms of its precision, ease of use, low cost and efficiency, the statement, notes that most of the moral questions that have been raised so far in relation to genome editing have been debated before. Perhaps more importantly, then, it draws attention to the fact that the context in which they are now appear is ‘dramatically different’. (I don’t know how deliberately this phrase was chosen, but it seems both apt and informative.)
The statement lists some distinctive features of this mise en scène. Against the background of progress and diffusion of science, unfolds a broad chorus of acceptance of biomedical techniques such as those of assisted conception. Waiting in the wings, however, are mavericks not socialised in orthodox scientific institutions, who might use the techniques ahead of their validation by the international scientific community.
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.