What I think about…

1.Genome editing and eugenics

Eugenics is a much-used term in relation to ‘reprogenetics’, i.e. CRISPR genome editing and other genetic technologies such as preimplantation genetic diagnosis, or mitochondrial transfer technologies used in the context of reproduction to select certain traits. Some say that this leads to a slippery slope to old eugenics and thus we should ban reprogenetics. Others say that these new technologies do not harken back to eugenics because people can now choose according to their own values – it’s not the state imposing decisions on them – hence we should be more liberal in our approach to regulating genetic technologies.

I view the use of the term eugenics in relation to these new technologies as unproductive and divisive. Instead, we should not use the term eugenics and should analyse on a case-by-case basis the motivation, intention, and consequences for the individual and for society of that particular use of a genetic technology.

Some say that the germ-line is a “red line” that should not be crossed, and only applications of genetic technologies to somatic cells should go ahead. I do not think this distinction is helpful: if there are good reasons to edit the germ-line, we should do so. If there are valuable alternatives – both medical (e.g., PGD as an alternative to CRISPR) and non-medical (e.g., adoption) – we should equally evaluate these.

The general point is that we should not evaluate a technology only on a risk-benefit basis, but should rather evaluate both techno-medical and social alternatives on equal footing. We should examine the issue at hand and look the broader picture, particularly in terms of how best to allocate scarce resources. A good example of this approach is organ donation: instead of genetically modifying pigs to produce human organs just because we have the technology to do so, we should also consider other approaches to increasing the availability of organs for donation (e.g., making the default option for drivers’ licenses “donor” instead of “non-donor”). We wrote about this for Bionews here. Ultimately, as with genetic technologies, decisions about how best to allocate scientific, ethical and socio-economic resources should be made in full consideration of the context in which those decisions are made. There is no easy yes or no answer nor ‘red-line’ that should not be crossed.

I expressed some of these views in a podcast interview to UC Medical Humanities Press April 27th, 2016: https://soundcloud.com/brian-dolan-250580185/ucmh-press-interviews-dr-silvia-camporesi-on-her-book-about-doping-in-sports-and-editing-embryos

2. Doping in sport

The only way to make professional sports sustainable is to assign liability for doping to those who hold power and control over athletes.

How can we do that?

“We can start with the idea that athletes should not be the only ones held to account (in the sense of liability) for doping. In practice, this means changing WADA’s system of strict liability for the athlete. To do so, we first need a stakeholder analysis to understand who the relevant stakeholders are for each team, athlete or sport. WADA could require teams or individual athletes and their entourages to submit something akin to a classic organisational chart, showing who reports to whom, who pays whom, and who makes decisions for whom.

The next step would be to assign liability to the appropriate stakeholder(s). Here, we think that the individuals identified through the stakeholder analysis as possessing the most power or control over the ‘organisation’ should be held personally liable for the doping of the athlete(s) under their control. […]

Assigning liability to those who wield power over the athlete(s), entourage or team would be practically possible: there are regulations and laws in other contexts that could serve as a model. After the Enron scandal of 2001, for example, in which the large US company lied about its finances, the US Congress passed a law called the Sarbanes-Oxley Act that makes the top managers of a publicly traded company personally liable for any financial fraud that anybody in their company commits, as related to that company.”

This is an excerpt from an AEON ‘Idea’ co-authored with James Knuckles. The full piece can be read here:


3. Eligibility of women athletes with hyperandrogenism to compete in the female category

I have worked extensively on this topic since 2009, when Caster Semenya’s case came to the fore. I believe that hyperandrogenism (too much testosterone) is a biological variation as many others that we can find in elite athletes, and should not be singled out as the only one which needs normalising for women to allow them to compete. In particular, I have argued that even if (case currently not proven) endogenous (natural) testosterone were proven to confer a performance advantage, this would not be unfair.

A summary of all my work on Caster Semenya’s case with links to resources can be found here: https://silviacamporesiresearch.org/2016/08/09/iaaf-hyperandrogenism-regulations-suspended-2015/