Bioethics Blogs

Of big beasts and straw men

I wrote recently on this blog about the disappointingly peremptory resolution by the US National Institutes for Health that they would not fund any use of genome editing technologies in human embryos. Although an understandable default, given the history, personalities and politics involved, my point was that while there may be ethical reasons not to support the research there may also be ethical reasons to support it, and to decline to examine these in the novel conditions created by, for example, wide ranging debates on pre-implantation genetic diagnosis and cell reconstruction techniques for the avoidance of mitochondrial DNA disorders, and innovations in biotechnology (notably the CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing system), amounts to an abdication of responsibility if you exert a major influence on the production of scientific knowledge for your society. The US Department of Health and Human Services has now commissioned the National Academy of Science to deliver a report on the scientific, medical and ethical considerations relating to gene editing and the Academy has set up an advisory group (which, despite earlier calls from its chair and other members for an international and interdisciplinary debate, apparently has only one non-US and one non-scientist member).

A major influence on the production and transfer of scientific knowledge on this side of the Atlantic is the Wellcome Trust, the world’s second largest non-governmental funder of medical research.   The Trust is currently supporting the consensus-building, interdisciplinary (though science-driven) Hinxton Group to examine genome editing and (it must be declared) is one of the three, hands-off funders of the Nuffield Council (along with the Nuffield Foundation and the Medical Research Council).

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.