Is CRISPR an Ethical Game Changer?

Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 31 (2):219-238 (2018)
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By many accounts, CRISPR gene-editing technology is revolutionizing biotechnology. It has been hailed as a scientific game changer and is being adopted at a break-neck pace. This hasty adoption has left little time for ethical reflection, and so this paper aims to begin filling that gap by exploring whether CRISPR is as much an ethical game changer as it is a biological one. By focusing on the application of CRISPR to non-human animals, I argue that CRISPR has and will continue to result in significant shifts in the ethical debate landscape. For instance, the fact that many CRISPR edits are non-transgenic has important implications for the ethical debate, particularly the popular objection to genetic engineering that it objectionably involves “crossing species boundaries,” as well as the regulatory debate in the United States, where currently only transgenic organisms are officially genetically modified organisms. I also explore various impacts CRISPR may have on animal welfare, suggesting that although the improved precision of CRISPR suggests fewer unintended welfare problems in comparison to past techniques, the greater versatility means that more animals than ever will be engineered. Finally, I end my discussion of animal welfare issues by exploring the possibility of using CRISPR to directly improve animal welfare, for instance through introducing disease resistance.



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Marcus Schultz-Bergin
Cleveland State University