Human flourishing in an age of gene editing
International uproar followed the recent birth of the first babies created from embryos whose genomes had been edited with a breakthrough technology. Another scientist has announced the intention to create more gene-edited babies. The potential uses of gene-editing technologies such as Crispr-Cas9 are unprecedented in human history: they can make genetic alterations that would be passed down to future generations.
The prospect of using gene editing to change ourselves, our children, and their offspring raises a host of difficult questions. Even if gene editing turns out to be safe, what other kinds of risks or harms could it pose? Human Flourishing in an Age of Gene Editing, published by Oxford University Press, leads the way to discussions surrounding deeply held personal, cultural, and societal values regarding human well-being in the context of a revolutionary new biotechnology.
Editors of the book are Erik Parens, a senior research scholar at The Hastings Center, and Josephine Johnston, director of research and a research scholar. The book is one outcome of a three-year international project, supported by the John Templeton Foundation, that focused on the potential social and ethical implications of using gene editing on human germline cells (eggs, sperm, and embryos), creating changes that could be inherited.
Parens and Johnston commissioned leading thinkers in philosophy, bioethics, religious studies, sociology, political science, law, and psychology to consider what gene editing might mean for human nature and human well-being. The questions explored include:
- What does it mean to flourish, and how might gene editing help or thwart flourishing?
- Could gene editing redefine what it means to be healthy, normal, or loved?
- How might it change relationships between parents and children?
- Could gene editing exacerbate the gap between the haves and the have-nots—and how can we avoid this risk?
The aim for the collection, Parens and Johnston state their introduction, is to stimulate a public conversation about ethical questions raised by gene editing. "It is through this public conversation that citizens can influence laws and the distribution of funding for science and medicine; that professional leaders can shape understanding and use of gene editing and related technologies by scientists, patients, and practitioners; and that individuals can make decisions about their own lives and the lives of their families," they write.