Human genome editing: how to prevent rogue actors

BMC Medical Ethics 21 (1):1-10 (2020)
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BackgroundHuman genome editing technologies offer much potential benefit. However, central to any conversation relating to the application of such technologies are certain ethical, legal, and social difficulties around their application. The recent misuse, or inappropriate use, by certain Chinese actors of the application of genome editing technologies has been, of late, well noted and described. Consequently, caution is expressed by various policy experts, scientists, bioethicists, and members of the public with regard to the appropriate use of human germline genome editing and its possible future effect on future generations.Main textAs concerns about the applications of heritable genome editing have grown, so too have the questions around what is to be done to curtail ‘rogue actors’. This paper explores various ways in which to regulate genomic editing that are socially beneficial, while being cognisant of legal and ethical principles and rights values. This is done by evolving regulatory frameworks across jurisdictions in an attempt to raise issues, address common principles, and set responsible standards for stewardship of the novel technology.ConclusionsIt is suggested that robust and concrete regulatory measures be introduced that are culturally and contextually sensitive, inclusive, appropriate, and trustworthy – and are based on public empowerment and human rights objectives. Doing so will ensure that we are perfectly positioned to harness and promote the benefits that novel technologies have to offer, while safeguarding public health and curtailing the ambitions of rogue actors. This it is acknowledged is no easy task, so, as a point of departure, this paper sets out a path forward by means of certain, practical recommendations – by constructing genome editing regulation in a manner that both fulfils the desire to better progress human health and that can withstand legal and ethical scrutiny.The following observations and recommendations are made: Firstly, that a solution of effective, legitimate governance should consist of a combination of national and supranational legislative regulation or ‘hard’ law, in combination with ‘soft’ ethics, firmly anchored in and underpinned by human rights values. Second, that efforts to support legal and ethical solutions should be rigorous, practical, and robust, contribute to a reaffirmation of human rights in a contextually sensitive manner, and be transnational in reach. Lastly, that greater harmonisation across jurisdictions and increased public engagement be sought. This it is proposed will address the question of how to implement a normative framework which in turn can prevent future rogue actors.



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Beverley Alice Townsend
University of York

References found in this work

Bioethics: why philosophy is essential for progress.Julian Savulescu - 2015 - Journal of Medical Ethics 41 (1):28-33.
Germline Modification and the Burden of Human Existence.John Harris - 2016 - Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 25 (1):6-18.
Technology Theory and Deliberative Democracy.Patrick W. Hamlett - 2003 - Science, Technology, and Human Values 28 (1):112-140.

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