A Q methodology study on divergent perspectives on CRISPR-Cas9 in the Netherlands

BMC Medical Ethics 22 (1):1-13 (2021)
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Abstract

BackgroundCRISPR-Cas9, a technology enabling modification of the human genome, is developing rapidly. There have been calls for public debate to discuss its ethics, societal implications, and governance. So far, however, little is known about public attitudes on CRISPR-Cas9. This study contributes to a better understanding of public perspectives by exploring the various holistic perspectives Dutch citizens have on CRISPR-Cas9.MethodsThis study used Q methodology to identify different perspectives of Dutch citizens (N = 30) on the use of CRISPR-Cas9. The Q-sort method aims at segmenting audiences based on the structural characteristics of their perspectives. Participants individually ranked 32 statements about CRISPR-Cas9 and discussed their rankings in small groups. By-person factor analysis was performed using PQMethod. Participants’ contributions to the discussions were used to further make sense of the audience segments identified.ResultsFive perspectives on CRISPR-Cas9 were identified: (1) pragmatic optimism (2) concerned scepticism; (3) normative optimism; (4) enthusiastic support; and (5) benevolent generalism. Each perspective represents a unique position motivated by different ranking rationales. Sorting rationales included improving health, preventing negative impacts on society, and fear of a slippery slope. Overall, there is broad, but not universal support for medical uses of CRISPR-Cas9.ConclusionsResearch on CRISPR-Cas9 should prioritise the broadly supported applications of the technology. Research and public debates on CRISPR-Cas9, its uses, its broader implications, and the governance of CRISPR-Cas9 are recommended. A discourse that includes all perspectives can contribute to the embedding of future uses of CRISPR-Cas9 in society. This study shows that Q methodology followed by group discussions enables citizens to contribute meaningfully to discourses about research.

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