Is the moratorium on editing the human genome ethically justifiable?

Last month, leading scientists called for a worldwide moratorium on the use of new technologies that would enable editing of the human genome. If put into practice, this technique has the ability to alter human DNA that is inherited, thereby changing the human germline and potentially controlling human heredity.

While the technology could be used with the hopes of curing genetic diseases, it could also be used to enhance qualities such as intelligence, beauty, or artistic abilities, for example. Once the human germline has been altered — through modifications in sperm, eggs, and embryos — these designed characteristics do not only impact the individual, but also has the potential to be inherited by future generations.

“This technology is already likely to revolutionize genetic engineering in the lab and has the potential to be a game changer in human genetic engineering,” according to Dr. Jason Morris, a geneticist, and Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Natural Sciences at Fordham University.

“Further, there doesn’t appear to be a well-thought-out consensus on what sort of genetic manipulation on humans should be permissible or how to keep the genie in the bottle once the bottle is cracked open,” he continued. “So yes, I’d say a moratorium is more than justified. I hope they use the time well.”

Morris concluded: “Honestly, in a culture so backward people still worry about ‘frankenfruit’ and indiscriminately fear any genetic technology they don’t understand and yet so mad for ‘improving’ themselves and their children as ours is, I don’t know what can be done.”

For more information, please view Center for Ethics Education Director Dr. Celia B. Fisher’s recent presentation on Information Risk in Research Involving Genetic Testing.


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