Bioethics Blogs

Human gene editing: Keep calm and carry on conversing

The Human Gene Editing Summit in Washington DC was much anticipated and generated many commentaries, before, during and after its completion. Headlines appeared on a daily basis, describing how ‘top scientists’ assembled to discuss the ‘excitement’ of genome editing and its potential to deliver ‘cures’ for almost all diseases, but how there are also ‘ethical concerns’ over ‘designer babies’ and scientists ‘playing God’. Giddy stuff. Indeed, one conclusion I drew from attending the Summit was that we all need to take a collective deep breath….and relax. Amongst the chatter and general din there were important points made by many participants and observers, but it will take time to consider these carefully.

Many observers are queueing up to praise or condemn genome editing, particularly germ line editing; to evoke its potential to transform research and development in fields as disparate as agriculture and medicine for the benefit of mankind, or to caution against enthusiasm for attempted control of people’s fates by intervening in nature (more on the concepts of nature and naturalness in this recent blog post).

One upshot of all this is a sense of a fork in the road in respect of human gene editing, at which we must choose a future direction, with potentially dramatic consequences. I think what is needed now is some sobriety: you might call this a plea for dull cogitation. This includes a meticulous tracing of how we got to where we stand now and careful deliberation of the choices that exist henceforth, requiring contributions from as many people as possible (on that note, please see the Council’s open call for evidence).

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.