Bioethics Blogs

Engineering a Consensus:   Edit embryos for research, not reproduction

Written by Dr Chris Gyngell, Dr Tom Douglas and Professor Julian Savulescu

A crucial international summit on gene editing continues today in Washington DC. Organised by the US National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Medicine, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the U.K.’s Royal Society, the summit promises to be a pivotal point in the history of the gene editing technologies.

Gene editing (GE) is a truly revolutionary technology, potentially allowing the genetic bases of life to be manipulated at will. It has already been used to create malaria-fighting mosquitoes, drought resistant wheat, hornless cows and cancer killing immune cells. All this despite the fact GE only become widely used in the past few years. The potential applications of GE in a decade are difficult to imagine. It may transform the food we eat, the animals we farm, and the way we battle disease.

Despite these far-reaching implications, public debate has been focused on a very specific sort of gene editing. Earlier this year, a lab based in China caused a massive uproar when it was the first to use GE on human embryos. Scientists and public interest groups in the USA called for an international ban on any similar research. A leading scientific journal published a commentary calling for such research to be strongly discouraged. The US based National Institutes of Health, said that such research, “was a line that should not be crossed”.

Many arguments have been offered against GE in human embryos. These have adverted, among other things, to the possibility that GE might be used to create designer babies, deepen social inequalities or cause heritable genetic defects.

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.