The Ethical Issues of CRISPR/Cas9 Technology:Aspiring Towards Perfection or Annihilation?

NCER President Carol Szczepaniak, recently had the opportunity to present at the 4th Annual Biopharmaceutical Research & Development Symposium at the University Nebraska Medical Center for the Department of Pharmceutical Sciences: College of Pharmacy.

Following is the abstract for her presentation on this widely debated topic making news across the world. If you would like to learn more about this or any other topic that NCER reports please contact us to speak for your group.


Recently, genetic research is generating breakthroughs at a staggering pace, leading to exciting possibilities for healing diseases, while also revealing novel and precarious ethical challenges. In 2001, the Human Genome Project paved the way for these breakthroughs by identifying genes and mapping the location of disease-causing mutations. CRISPR-Cas9 is a new, game-changing technology that can modify, remove and replace somatic and germline genes of any organism, as well as regulate gene expression by activating or silencing genes. This technology will profoundly influence multiple disciplines from agriculture to medicine, due to its functional flexibility, simplicity and affordability. The applications are as exciting as they are ominous: think disease resistant crops, mosquitos that no longer spread disease, a cure for cancer, cystic fibrosis and HIV; but also think altering the human genome forever, eugenics applications, non-therapeutic designer children, and militarized transhumanism. In 2015, (and again in 2016) China announced they had conducted gene editing on embryos using CRISPR-Cas9 with dismal results due to uncontrolled, unintended editing. At the 2015 International Summit on Gene Editing, research using viable human embryos was given the green light, while clinical use was allotted a temporary moratorium. In 2016, the UK approved editing the genes of human embryos, tentatively up until the 14th day, for research intended to study the causes of miscarriages. A step well beyond the ethical objections to experimenting with and destroying spare human embryos, the prospect of altering human germline cells or embryos that will produce inheritable genetic changes does alarm the majority of the biomedical research community. These ominous safety and ethical concerns must be addressed and monitored within the scientific community. Voluntary adherence to moratoriums and bans on research that may endanger the future of the human genome and civilization is required. However, CRISPR-Cas9 is a tool that places actual treatments and cures for debilitating diseases within our grasp, and therefore its ethical use must not be obstructed. The scientific community has the responsibility to lead the human race into our collective future, and therefore it must walk a fine line, making ethical decisions that improve humanity without jeopardizing it. If we neglect to do this, humanity may go the way of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, wherein “Aspiring toward a consistent perfection, they are aspiring towards annihilation.” (Huxley, 1932)

Works Cited:
Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. New York: Harper Brothers, 1932. Print.

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