January 14 - 16, 2020
Experimenting on Future Children: Gene Editing in Human Reproduction
- Mills Catherine
- Sparrow Robert
- Ludlow Karinne
- Warren Narelle
In late 2018, a Chinese scientist shocked the world by announcing the birth of twin babies, on whom he had used the CRISPR Cas9 technique to alter their genomes as early embryos. This was the first time in the world that gene edited embryos were implanted in a woman in the hope of a live birth, and it was done well ahead of any ethical or regulatory consensus on the permissibility of using genome editing in human reproduction. As with other first clinical uses of new reproductive technologies, this use of CRISPR-Cas9 was essentially experimental: it is not yet clear that gene editing is safe or effective and, in the context of reproduction, it is impossible to show that via clinical trials before application. However, the pressure on scientists to innovate and commercialize research, and the often strong desire of prospective parents to have a genetically related child, converge to encourage early application of new techniques and technologies in assisted reproduction services. This workshop focuses on the implications of scientific innovation systems for human reproduction, especially in regards to the early adopters of new technologies. We focus our discussion of these issues on the prospects of genome editing of human beings. This workshop brings together leading experts in the ethics and regulation of new technologies, especially gene editing, to identify and analyze significant issues raised by the early uptake of essentially experimental techniques in reproduction, including the role of early adopters in shaping ethics and regulation.
Questions to be addressed include:
- Under what conditions should it be permissible for prospective parents to undertake experimental treatments on future children, and when should such treatments be prevented by regulation? - Are there circumstances where it would be morally negligent of prospective parents to reproduce without using technologies such as genome editing, even if they are not yet shown to be safe or effective?
- Does the heritability of genome editing techniques such as CRISPR-Cas9 make a difference, either to the ethics of genome editing per se or to the permissibility of some reproductive uses?
- How does the early adoption of an experimental technology by prospective parents impact on the ethical and regulatory discussion of its permissibility?
- Given the experimental nature of genome editing in human reproduction, what protocols ought to be followed to ensure safety and efficacy?
- What, if any, deleterious effects do the drivers of scientific innovation have in the context of human reproduction, especially when linked to commercialization, and how might these be mitigated?
- How might the ethical discussion and regulation of technologies change before and after breakthroughs, and could this help to moderate the pressures for early application?