Bioethics Blogs

Dangers of an Unscientific Policy Process: Why the UK

Several researchers around the world have now turned the CRISPR genome editing craze towards human embryos, reigniting questions around the feasibility, legality, and morality of creating genetically modified humans. Some have suggested that we look for guidance to the United Kingdom’s policy process for “mitochondrial replacement,” also known as “three-person IVF,” which culminated in the world’s first legalization of a procedure that is technically a form of heritable human genetic modification in 2015.

How did the UK come to enable techniques that arguably contradict a policy in force throughout Europe for more than 15 years?

Having followed the process for several years, I would argue that we can learn a great deal from its history, but more specifically in what not to do moving forward in the CRISPR policy debate. In this blog, I will try to explain why.

I am a UK citizen who generally respects Britain’s regulatory models. However, I believe this process failed to live up to its self-image of openness and transparency. The experience taught me that science and technology hold such ingrained cultural and economic capital that people often hear any concern raised – even when it comes from other scientists – as “anti-science” or “anti-technology.” Moreover, it taught me that simple stories can become so compelling and satisfying that they do not bend, even in the presence of critical new information.

In this case, a consequential law was altered on the basis of a group of scientific methods whose human health and safety consequences have not been vetted, and could end up harming those they were designed to help.

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.