Bioethics Program Director Robert Klitzman, M.D. has authored an editorial in The American Journal of Bioethics on the potential ethical problems posed by heritable human genome editing (HHGE).
The article, “Preparing for the Next Generation of Ethical Challenges Concerning Heritable Human Genome Editing,” addresses the field’s controversial advances in the past few years. In 2018, several scientists called for an evaluation and potential ban on HHGE research after Dr. He Jiankui claimed he had successfully produced twin girls from edited human embryos. In response, the International Commission on the Clinical Use of Human Germline Genome Editing was established in 2019.
Dr. Klitzman notes that many scientists had hoped the Commission might outline or find solutions for the most notable concerns such as eugenics, preferential access, and technical regulation. He summarizes the recommendations issued by the Commission in 2020, which include that pregnancy should not be attempted unless the exact genomic changes can be made without “unintended edits” and until there has been comprehensive societal discourse.
Dr. Klitzman posits the recommendations are “important, and reflect careful, and thoughtful discussion, but also reveal and underscore critical remaining challenges.” He goes on to pose questions which identify the Commission’s vague use of language, the rarity of the scenarios they address, and the challenges that still remain. Dr. Klitzman concludes that “multiple stakeholders will likely soon confront additional, complex dilemmas involving interplays of both science and ethics that also need urgent attention.”
The editorial was published in the latest issue of The American Journal of Bioethics and can be read online in full.