Bioethics News

Somerville vs Savulescu on gene editing

The debate over editing the human genome is bound to continue for a long time, now that the new CRISPR technology promises to make it quick and easy.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation brought together bioethicists Margaret Somerville, of McGill University in Montréal, and Julian Savulescu, of Oxford University, to debate the topic, which touches upon profound issues of human identity.

Somerville opposes altering the human genome and Savulescu supports it, provided it can be made safe. Their exchange of views is extremely interesting (read the transcript in full here). Below are their summing-up statements:

Margaret Somerville:  The analogy I’d make is to our physical environment. We have new technologies that we’ve used in our physical environment, and very recently, we’ve come to the awareness that it’s not indestructible and that we can do damage that is irreversible. And we’ve now recognized, as the conference in Paris this week is talking about, that we have to hold our physical ecosystem on trust for future generations, not to lay it waste, not to leave future generations worse off than we are – and hopefully better off.

And I think we can say the same about what I call our metaphysical ecosystem, the values, beliefs, attitudes, principles, stories that we tell each other and buy into to form a society, that we also have to hold on trust. I believe this idea, this area of actually designing future humans, and that’s what this about, contradicts what we need to maintain as the base of our metaphysical ecosystem – that is, respect for human life, in general, and respect for every individual human, and that includes human embryos.

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.