Bioethics Blogs

Debate on whether we should use gene-editing technology is far from black and white

The real question is not whether gene editing should be allowed or banned, but how it should be regulated. shutterstock

Arguments in favour of embracing gene editing focus on how it can deliver cheap treatments and cures for some truly awful medical conditions. They contest banning the technology based on all the good it can do for people, especially the most vulnerable.

Diseases are bad, cures are great, and gene editing may indeed deliver those cures. Who wouldn’t agree with that? Indeed, who in their right minds would forgo such a great deal of good?

It’s hard to argue with any of this. But although we share these sentiments, we think it’s unhelpful to frame this as a debate about whether to allow or to ban gene editing.

A false and unhelpful dichotomy

Debates about the regulation of emerging technologies are often presented in polarised terms.

Consider smart drugs: when the question posed is whether students should be allowed to use smart drugs, it’s hard to see anything other than two options.

Either we embrace the technology with arms wide open and hope for the best – that the benefits will outweigh the costs – or we prohibit it, banish it and forgo all those benefits. Tough choice. Should it be banned or should it be allowed?

When the question is posed this way it invites false dichotomies that present only a choice between the paralysis of the precautionary principle (when unsure, do nothing) and the reckless embrace of new technologies unaided by safety nets should things go awry.

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.