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Genome editing and human reproduction

Genre: science
The capacity to select the traits of our future children has long been a central theme in science fiction writing, often solemnly warning of the moral dangers associated with doing so, even when undertaken with the best of intentions. The discovery of DNA, the so-called ‘code of life’, pointed the way towards the scientific avenue through which deliberate intervention to select for desired human traits of future children might be brought about. Yet even after DNA was discovered, the prospect of doing so has remained purely speculative: we simply lacked the scientific knowledge and tools to attempt such a feat. However, as the Council’s 2016 report Genome editing: an ethical review observes, the development of genome editing techniques has been game changing for research across the biosciences, particularly since the emergence of the CRISPR-Cas9 system in 2012, which enabled precisely targeted alterations to DNA sequences in living cells. As a result, deliberately intervening in the human genome for the purposes of selecting traits of future children has now become a real and distinct possibility. The central question which this Report sets out to address is whether such interventions would be ethically acceptable. Our conclusion is that interventions of this kind to influence the characteristics of future generations could be ethically acceptable, provided if, and only if, two principles are satisfied: first, that such interventions are intended to secure, and are consistent with, the welfare of a person who may be born as a consequence, and second, that any such interventions would uphold principles of social justice and solidarity – by this we mean that such interventions should not produce or exacerbate social division, or marginalise or disadvantage groups in society.
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