Bioethics Blogs

Gene editing: a chance to think about diversity

Jackie Leach Scully calls for a wide-ranging discussion of the scope and nature of human genetic variation and diversity.

__________________________________________

Readers of Impact Ethics will have noticed the recent surge of interest in the new technology of gene editing. There was last week’s high profile International Summit on Human Gene Editing, organized by the UK’s Royal Society, the US National Academy of Medicine, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Meanwhile, the UK’s Nuffield Council on Bioethics has launched a major project on gene editing. And these are only two of many other meetings, statements, and events.

So far, most public interest has been generated by gene editing’s potential clinical uses. The hope – or hype – is that gene editing will enable us to eradicate serious diseases and disabilities. Families affected by devastating disorders are often very clear in that they want research into editing technologies to push ahead, to remove or at least reduce the chances that the disorder will be passed on. The hope of getting rid of devastating hereditary neurological disorders, cystic fibrosis, and so on, may well be worth both the economic and moral investment in gene editing, or even of changing the germline.

If gene editing’s promise is fulfilled (and some of us have been around long enough to remember just how often a biomedical promise hasn’t panned out), it will present formidable ethical issues. It’s worth remembering here that these concerns aren’t unprecedented: the ethics of genetic technologies has been under scrutiny since the landmark Asilomar Conference on Recombinant DNA in 1975.

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.