With Dr Lara Marks I published an article for the Conversation commenting on the recent application by researchers at Francis Crick institute to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority to use CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing technologies to the human embryos:
“This is a controversial move, which would make the UK the only country in the world apart from China to carry out such research. […] The recent call by US scientists for a temporary pause “in the application of germ-line modification for clinical application in humans while the implications of such activity are discussed” has added a new intensity to the debate and reveals a potential bioethical divide between the US and the UK. The proposed moratorium has been hailed in some quarters as a positive step toward preserving the public’s trust and safety but because of its narrow focus on the germ-line, it also prevents alternative views from surfacing in the debate and constrains the boundaries of the much called-for public engagement with the issue”.
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What follows is an excerpt of an op-ed I have recently published on the Huffington Post Blog with some reflections on the profession of the bioethicist:
“With my students in the MA in Bioethics & Society at King’s College London we spend one lecture at the beginning of the year discussing who and what the bioethicist is.
As I wrote on this blog before, it is, to say the least, a bit disheartening that we seem not to have made any progress in 40 years when it comes to governing science, and that we still refer to Asilomar as the exemplar of best practice for governing science.
Take, for example, the recent news that “US science leaders [are] to tackle the ethics of gene-editing technology.” The National Academy of Science, in what has been explicitly called a “step reminiscent of one in 1975, when NAS convened the Asilomar Conference” is putting together an international summit on gene editing this fall. The intention is – or so it seems – to bring together scientists to set the ethical policies by which scientists work on and with gene editing technologies.
In another example, Francis Collins Director of the NIH has released a statement that NIH will not fund research using gene editing technologies in human embryos. This comes before any engagement with ethics, and as rightly pointed out by Pete Mills of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, it is equivalent to “throwing out the bathwater, baby and all.”
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