Bioethics Blogs

Gene Editing: How much justice delayed or denied?

Nicholas G. Evans offers a nuanced examination of John Harris’ claims against the “unacceptable risks to future generations” associated with gene editing in human reproduction.

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The International Summit on Human Gene Editing: A Global Discussion is a three-day event convened by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, The Royal Society, the United States (US) National Academy of Sciences, and US National Academy of Medicine. The Summit has a live webcast, a vibrant Twitter hashtag, and is being reported by major news organizations and blogs alike.

I want to pick up on one very small piece of this immense puzzle, highlighted by philosopher John Harris in the penultimate session of day one of the Summit (you can find his talk here). Harris, at the University of Manchester, highlighted three allegedly “obviously fallacious and dogmatic” arguments against the editing of the human genome:

  • Arguments from the sacredness of the human genome;
  • Arguments from the “unacceptable risks to future generations” as a result of human gene editing;
  • The inability to get consent from children produced as a result of human gene editing.

I want to pick up the second of these, and concentrate solely on the question of editing the human genome in embryos, which is Harris’ main talking point. Harris notes that the risks of gene editing of the germ line only have to be comparable to the “gold standard” of human reproduction. As such, Harris wants us to conclude, we should press forward with gene editing insofar as it is no more risky than our alternatives, including the risks posed by already accepted reproductive technologies (IVF, preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), etc.).

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.