The Ethics of CRISPR
By Siya Gupta
CRISPR-Cas9 has revolutionized the way we look at genes. It paved the way for efficient and inexpensive gene editing and silencing. Even with the many benefits, the use of CRISPR raises ethical questions in topics such as intervention in evolution. The ethics of gene editing and CRISPR have been debated since CRISPR’s rise. For the most part, scientists agree that CRISPR should be used to make human disease models to understand the development, mechanisms, and effects of diseases. It should NOT be used for eugenics or the enhancement of humans. Keeping the ethical issues in mind, major therapeutic genome editing in embryos is not predicted to happen any time soon.
One of the many issues that come up with this is accessibility and equality. Not everyone has the means or the resources to be able to access genetic engineering or enhancements. This raises questions about equality and fairness in terms of genetic engineering. If only a certain percentage of people can access this technology it won’t be considered accessible to all. Genetic intervention can create additional societal divide.
Another issue that is in the spotlight is the risk that comes with genetic engineering. Although this is promising, there may be some consequences that may happen as a result of this editing that we may not even be aware of. A lot more research needs to be done before the widespread use of genetic engineering to minimize risk and ensure its safety. We do not know the limits of this technology as of yet. More experimentation can allow us to see the limits of this technology and its use. This will also make clear what the technology should be used for and who it should be accessible to for the technology to be used properly and ethically. One controversy that comes with the risk of CRISPR is the ability of the changes that are made by CRISPR to be passed down through generations. This brings into question the long-term impacts of any possible genetic changes, especially in humans.
The current regulations on CRISPR are dictated by the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA looks over gene therapies for clinical use while the NIH dictates the policy guidelines surrounding the research on gene editing. The NIH has a particular focus on ethics and safety.
CRISPR has the ability to revolutionize not just the healthcare field, but everything around us as well, which is why it is important to look at all aspects of the technology and the repercussions it can have. Overall, in terms of ethics, researchers are looking to see what is and is not acceptable when using CRISPR. This takes a lot of factors, including autonomy and consent, into play. Addressing these issues has become an interdisciplinary job and will remain this way for years to come. In the future, scientists must beware of any possible exploitation of CRISPR and work to avoid it.