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American Society of Law, Medicine & Ethics and Boston University School of Law




The moon landing, now more than a half century in the past, has turned out to be the culmination of human space travel, rather than its beginning. Genetic engineering, especially applications of CRISPR, now presents the most publicly discussed engineering challenges—and not just technical, but ethical as well. In this article, I will use the two most controversial genomic engineering applications to help identify the ethics and human rights implications of these research projects. Each of these techniques directly modifies the mechanisms of evolution, threatens to alter our views of ourselves as humans and our planet as our home, and presents novel informed consent and dual use challenges: human genome editing and gene drives in insects.

I begin with a discussion of so far disastrously unsuccessful attempts to regulate germline editing in humans, including a summary of the first application of germline genome editing in humans and its aftermath. I then turn to a discussion of setting ethical standards for a genomic technology that has not yet been deployed in nature—gene drives. Finally, I end by suggesting that human rights can and should be directly applicable to defining the ethics of genomic research.

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