Human Gene Editing and the Ethics of Enhancement
Over the past decade, a new generation of precise and efficient gene editing techniques has brought new urgency and attention to the discussion of the ethics of human enhancement. In 2015, gene editing research in non-viable human embryos signaled that human applications were on the horizon which, in theory, could be aimed beyond disease treatment toward improvements upon normal human traits. In 2018, that prospect was given a touchstone case, when a scientist named He Jiankui announced that he had edited the genes of at least two human embryos that resulted in live births, intending to give them resistance to HIV. This episode provoked an international wave of policy discussion aimed at governing the trajectory of human gene editing research. It also underlined the importance of the debates over enhancement, by raising the question of whether providing superior resistance to HIV crossed the line between therapeutic and enhancement uses of gene editing—and if so, whether that mattered ethically.
The literature of the ethics of human enhancement long predates the advent of the new gene editing techniques, and the current discussion builds on those foundations. A central…
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- National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2017). Human genome editing: Science, ethics and governance. (Especially chapter 6, “Enhancement”.)
- WHO Expert Advisory Committee on Developing Global Standards for Governance and Oversight of Human Genome Editing. (2021). Human genome editing: A framework for governance. (Especially section 3.5, “Special challenges: Enhancement”.)
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About ELSIhub Collections
ELSIhub Collections are essential reading lists on fundamental or emerging topics in ELSI, curated and explained by expert Collection Editors, often paired with ELSI trainees. This series assembles materials from cross-disciplinary literatures to enable quick access to key information.