Gene Editing: Social and Ethical Implications

Every healthcare technology breakthrough brings with it a set of ethical and social concerns that seek to ensure the safety and accessibility of its implementation in our society. Germline gene editing (GGE) is an exciting new technology by which heritable genes can be modified. While the possible gene modifications are endless in theory, many agree that this tool should be used for nothing more than the treatment and removal of disease. Most research has followed this principle and scientists have recently been able to successfully modify many single-gene disorders like cystic fibrosis as well as some polygenetic disorders.

Off-target effects are still a serious concern in GGE experiments, but the technology is improving every year and scientists are becoming more effective in using it.

The continued progression of GGE toward greater viability as a healthcare measure has given rise to many important questions that need to be answered if it is to be made accessible to consumers. What types of GGE procedures should be available? What if gene-editing technology were accessible to only certain groups of people? Should we even be allowed to edit the genes that are passed down to our descendants without their consent? These are just a few of the questions that need to be addressed by scientists, ethicists, and policymakers before we can responsibly implement the powers of GGE in our society.

Our forthcoming paper provides an overview of the current literature on germline gene-editing which we hope can guide policymakers toward a stronger understanding of the scientific and ethical questions surrounding it.

About the Author: Cameron Murray is a researcher at the New York Branch of Polygeia and a student at NYU.