Editing the Gene Editing Debate: Reassessing the Normative Discussions on Emerging Genetic Technologies

NanoEthics 13 (3):233-243 (2019)
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Abstract

The revolutionary potential of the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technique has created a resurgence in enthusiasm and concern in genetic research perhaps not seen since the mapping of the human genome at the turn of the century. Some such concerns and anxieties revolve around crossing lines between somatic and germline interventions as well as treatment and enhancement applications. Underpinning these concerns, there are familiar concepts of safety, unintended consequences and damage to genetic identity and the creation of designer children through pursuing human enhancement and eugenics. In the policy realm, these morally laden distinctions and anxieties are emerging as the basis for making important and applied measures to respond to the fast-evolving scientific developments. This paper argues that the dominant normative framing for such responses is insufficient for this task. This paper illustrates this insufficiency as arising from a continued reliance on misleading genetic essentialist assumptions that generate groundless speculation and over-reactionary normative responses. This phenomenon is explicit with regard to prospective human genetic enhancements. While many normative theorists and state-of-the-art reports continue to gesture toward the influence of environmental and social influences on a person and their traits and capacities, this recognition does not extend to the substance of the arguments themselves which tend to revert to the debunked genetic determinist framework. Given the above, this paper argues that there is a pressing need for a more central role for sociological input into particular aspects of this “enhancement myth” in order to give added weight, detail and substance to these environmental influences and influence from social structures.

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