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Human Gene Editing: The Dawn, the Zenith and the Dusk
Baylis, F. (13 Jun 2017). Human gene editing: The dawn, the zenith, and the dusk. Plenary Lecture 22nd IFCC-EFLM European Congress of Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine "EuroMedLab", Athens, Greece, 11-15 June 2017.
Abstracts published in: Clin Chem Lab Med, 55 (Special Suppl):S1-S121. DOI 10.1515/cclm-2017-5000.
Sienna, a character in Dan Brown’s Inferno asserts that “Humans have evolved incrementally over millennia, inventing new technologies along the way – rubbing sticks together for warmth, developing agriculture to feed ourselves, inventing vaccines to fight disease, and now, creating genetic tools to help engineer our own bodies so we can survive in a changing world ... genetic engineering is just another step in a long line of human advances... If we don’t embrace them, then we are as undeserving of life as the caveman who freezes to death because he is afraid to start a fire.” While these are the words of a fictional character, many among us (including worldly scientists) hold this view. Meanwhile, many others maintain that there is no compelling ethical or scientific justification to begin tinkering with the human genome. While there are some “disease genes” that we might all agree should be eradicated, we don’t know (and can’t know) what will improve the human species. The long-term worry here is that one or more scientists will boldly go where none have gone before in selecting modifications for the population at large, with a view to altering the human species. Those who share this concern question the wisdom of embracing volitional evolution. In this presentation, I will critically examine the ethics of human gene editing with particular attention to the debates on germline modification and human enhancement. I will comment on the roles and responsibilities of the scientific, corporate and political elites who seek to direct the science. In closing, I will invite the audience to reflect with me on how we might go about forging a global consensus on how best to use gene editing technology for the common good.
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