Bioethics Blogs

The CRISPR Germline Debate: Closed to the Public?

The conversation about how to regulate powerful new genome editing tools is heating up as the National Academies’ December “international summit” draws closer.

A Nature editorial on October 14 argues (echoing the conclusions others have drawn [1, 2] as the CRISPR hype has mounted) that valorizing the 1975 Asilomar meeting as a model for modern scientific policy debate is ill-advised:

“When controversy comes calling, rather than asking for an Asilomar conference — which, after all, was closed to the public — scientists should reach outwards…. The world has moved on since then; science must as well.”

Nature continues, “[S]cientists who wish to self-regulate ignore public outcry at their peril” and “the most polarized US government in history… can turn any new technology into a political weapon.” While the editors recognize that ‘[d]iscussions should extend beyond researchers and ethicists,” their qualified recommendation – that this means “includ[ing] or at least broadcast[ing] to, the broader public”– is a bit worrisome. (emphasis added)

Unfortunately, Nature then goes on to malign one of the common entry points for public engagement with biotechnological controversies: “[D]iscussions should avoid unhelpful references to the genetically modified humans in the 1997 film Gattaca.” By cordoning off cultural references, this move in effect erects boundaries to public participation and restricts the debate to scientific authorities and terms.

These views are especially troubling because media coverage of the CRISPR controversy in the past few weeks has focused on anything-but-ELSI news, as evidenced by other recent stories.

Nobel Prizes and Consolation Deals

After a flurry of media speculation, Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier were passed over this year for a Nobel Prize.

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.