17 October 2019

A legal expert in the USA has argued against claims that human germline editing is inherently bad or unethical.

Writing in a special issue of The CRISPR Journal on the ethics of human genome editing, Professor Henry Greely from Stanford University, California, denied that the human genome is “the heritage of humanity” that “cannot be allowed to fall into the wrong hands”.

Instead, Professor Greely contrasts germline editing with the practical applications of preimplantation genetic testing and somatic gene therapy.

CRISPR gene editing has been proposed as a potential treatment option for various haematological diseases including sickle cell anaemia. The special journal issue published last week tackles the question of whether it is ethical to permanently edit the human germline such that these changes can be inherited.

The question came into sharp focus following the actions of He Jiankui and the ‘CRISPR baby’ genome editing scandal in China in 2018.

The special issue also includes responses to the two international commissions which have been launched to provide recommendations for the governance of human germline editing. Sheila Jasanoff, of Harvard University, Ben Hurlbut of Arizona State University, and Krishanu Saha from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, argue that this approach is “premature and problematic”.

Presenting six recommendations, they argue that global democratic governance “demands a new mechanism for active, sustained reflection by scientists” in partnership with scholars from other disciplines and the public.

Meanwhile, Kerry Macintosh, of Santa Clara University School of Law, CA, and author of Enhanced Beings, has voiced her opposition to calls for a moratorium on heritable genome editing.

She warned that there would be a danger of a temporary ban becoming permanent, and that it would provide a disincentive to support appropriate research to make the technology safer and more effective. There was also the potential for children born with edited genes to be stigmatised, she argued, adding that germline editing should be regulated only for safety and efficacy.



Source: The CRISPR Journal, Special Issue, “The Ethics of Human Genome Editing”, October 2019

Link: https://www.liebertpub.com/toc/crispr/2/5  


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