Beyond safety: mapping the ethical debate on heritable genome editing interventions
Em: Humanities & Social Sciences Communications
Genetic engineering has provided humans the ability to transform organisms by direct manipulation of genomes within a broad range of applications including agriculture (e.g., GM crops), and the pharmaceutical industry (e.g., insulin production). Developments within the last 10 years have produced new tools for genome editing (e.g., CRISPR/Cas9) that can achieve much greater precision than previous forms of genetic engineering. Moreover, these tools could offer the potential for interventions on humans and for both clinical and non-clinical purposes, resulting in a broad scope of applicability. However, their promising abilities and potential uses (including their applicability in humans for either somatic or heritable genome editing interventions) greatly increase their potential societal impacts and, as such, have brought an urgency to ethical and regulatory discussions about the application of such technology in our society. In this article, we explore different arguments (pragmatic, sociopolitical and categorical) that have been made in support of or in opposition to the new technologies of genome editing and their impact on the debate of the permissibility or otherwise of human heritable genome editing interventions in the future. For this purpose, reference is made to discussions on genetic engineering that have taken place in the field of bioethics since the 1980s. Our analysis shows that the dominance of categorical arguments has been reversed in favour of pragmatic arguments such as safety concerns. However, when it comes to involving the public in ethical discourse, we consider it crucial widening the debate beyond such pragmatic considerations. In this article, we explore some of the key categorical as well sociopolitical considerations raised by the potential uses of heritable genome editing interventions, as these considerations underline many of the societal concerns and values crucial for public engagement. We also highlight how pragmatic considerations, despite their increasing importance in the work of recent authoritative sources, are unlikely to be the result of progress on outstanding categorical issues, but rather reflect the limited progress on these aspects and/or pressures in regulating the use of the technology.