- Sheila Jasanoff, Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies at the Harvard Kennedy School, and Richard von Weizsäcker Fellow of the Robert Bosch Academy
Much of the recent debate on gene editing has centered on risks to the health of the edited individual. This framing presumes that we already know the right uses of this powerful technology. It accepts, in particular, that we will surely be editing the human germline, and possibly altering the course of human evolution, because it is now in science’s power to do so. All we need is a set of international rules to make sure genome editing technologies will not be put to unethical use. That sense of inevitability - premised on a perceived linear progression from science first, then to applications, and then to ethics - is conveyed in statements by many leading scientists and in the work of some bodies that have begun to develop guidelines for human gene editing.
This virtual conference begins at the opposite end, by putting questions of ethics and values first. The aim is to explore what are the rightful uses of science and technology that could, at the limit, alter our ideas of being human. To pursue this question, this conference brings together a diverse range of voices and perspectives that have not, until now, received adequate airing in the rush to develop clinical applications of genome editing. It will be asked what value attaches to the idea of the human in the world’s varied legal, political and spiritual traditions, and how (if at all) diverse conceptions of human rights, dignity, and integrity are entering into current approaches to human gene editing. By shifting the discourse away from the narrow question of what are safe uses of gene editing to the broader question of what conceptions of the human should guide applications of gene editing, this conference hopes to deepen and diversify the dialogue on gene editing, making it more profound and more inclusive.
The conference will launch the work of the Global Observatory on Genome Editing. The Global Observatory for Genome Editing seeks to expand the range of questions arising at the frontiers of emerging biotechnologies. It aims to foster international, interdisciplinary, and cross-sectoral dialogue among communities that are not normally in a position to reflect upon each others’ perspectives within existing advisory, regulatory and policy institutions. It brings together participants and perspectives from around the world to reflect on a set of technologies that are poised to alter the meaning of being human.
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