The avalanche of commentaries on CRISPR–Cas9 technology, a bacterial immune system modified to recognize any short DNA sequence, cut it out, and insert a new one, has rekindled hopes for gene therapy and other applications and raised criticisms of engineering genes in future generations.
Sources of data
This discussion draws on articles that emphasize ethics, identified partly through PubMed and Google, 2014–2016.
Areas of agreement
CRISPR–Cas9 has taken the pace and prospects for genetic discovery and applications to a high level, stoking anticipation for somatic gene engineering to help patients. We support a moratorium on germ line manipulation.
Areas of controversy
We place increased emphasis on the principle of solidarity and the public good. The genetic bases of some diseases are not thoroughly addressable with CRISPR–Cas9. We see no new ethical issues, compared with gene therapy and genetic engineering in general, apart from the explosive rate of findings. Other controversies include eugenics, patentability and unrealistic expectations of professionals and the public.
Biggest issues are the void of research on human germ cell biology, the appropriate routes for oversight and transparency, and the scientific and ethical areas of reproductive medicine.
Areas timely for developing research
The principle of genomic solidarity and priority on public good should be a lens for bringing clarity to CRISPR debates. The valid claim of genetic exceptionalism supports restraint on experimentation in human germ cells, given the trans-generational dangers and the knowledge gap in germ cell biology.
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