Bioethics Blogs

Human germline genome editing: An ‘impressive’ sleight of hand?

Françoise Baylis wonders how it is that in 14 months (from December 2015 to February 2017), the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the U.S. National Academy of Medicine have moved human germline genome editing out of the category ‘irresponsible’ and into the category ‘permissible.’

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In December 2015, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the U.S. National Academy of Medicine, the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the U.K.’s Royal Society co-hosted an International Summit on Human Gene Editing. At the close of the meeting, members of the Summit Organizing Committee issued a Statement that included four discrete conclusions. In response to the Statement, the Presidents of the four co-sponsoring organizations confirmed that: “Together with academies around the world, and in coordination with other international scientific and medical institutions, we stand ready to establish a continuing forum for assessment of the many scientific, medical, and ethical questions surrounding the pursuit of human gene-editing applications.”

One of the pivotal conclusions in the 2015 Statement was that “it would be irresponsible to proceed with any clinical use of germline editing unless and until (i) the relevant safety and efficacy issues have been resolved, based on appropriate understanding and balancing of risks, potential benefits, and alternatives, and (ii) there is broad societal consensus about the appropriateness of the proposed application.”

This conclusion has since been usefully characterized as a helpful ethics framework for decision-making about heritable germline modification. The framework is both beautifully simple and exquisitely complex. It is simple in that there are only two conditions to be satisfied.

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.