In October 2017, a former NASA scientist, Josiah Zayner shocked the world when he tried to edit his genes using his own do-it-yourself genetic modification kit named, CRISPR. He claimed the injection would modify his muscle genes to give him bigger muscles. In November 2018, Jiankui He, a Chinese scientist, created a pair of genetically edited embryos using a CRISPR kit. He successfully createda couple of twins, Lulu and Nana that claimed to have a natural ability to resist future HIV infection. Despite this possibly revolutionary scientific success, it stirs dramatic global confusion whether or not the kit is made available to the public.
From people for people
CRISPR initially started as an Indiegogo campaign that collected around £60,000 from 290 people. It is considered as a public project as most of the funds are public funds that need to be used responsibly for the public good. From the act utilitarian viewpoint, the public would be happy if the kit is available to them as they are the one who funded the kit. To deny CRISPR from them is to deny their ownership rights. As
the technologies mature, the kit showed positive results that help in the progression of genetic engineering and could bring a breakthrough discovery. The act may seem harmful at first, but in the long run, if the result brings benefits to the other, it is acceptable for utilitarians.
From an engineer’s perspective, the genetic engineering discovery can be enhanced by allowing the public to use CRISPR as more people can contribute their knowledge to the community. Moreover, CRISPR is proven to succeed and safe in a clinical trial. In the trial, the genomes of immune cells modified by CRISPR are well-tolerated by three people with cancer without showing any significant side effects. The trial may not be completed to stop cancer, but it is a good starting point to recognise what CRISPR can bring to the future. Therefore, making it available to the public is the right step to begin with. Cautious scientific optimism is needed to deal with scepticism that the kit would allow irresponsible people to use it. It means their ability to take responsible duties should not be criticised inappropriately in legal terms by this use of gene editing technologies. Ethics is therefore an autonomy. The researcher has the right to decide his ethics in the end.
In deontological ethics, it is not wrong for the public to make mistakes as long as they do not intend to do any particular wrong act. It would be considered an accident and we might consider from a deontological standpoint that they had not done anything appropriate for criticism. Based on the consequentialist approach, CRISPR is significantly benefitting and offers nearly boundless potential to promote progress in combating HIV, haemophilia, cancer, and any number of novel diseases. It brings more good than harm; then it is the right way to allow the public use of CRISPR. The question is, should authorities prevent CRISPR from the public while it is proven to be safe and successful?
CRISPR or stick with old crisps
Accessibility to CRISPR lab kits is acknowledged as providing vast opportunities to the virtue ethics scientist to expand their diverting exploration to modify the genome of animals and human cell lines, even without having to graduate with high education certificates and legitimate procedures of controlling these genetic experiments. Hence, a dream to improve the physical appearance of a person can hypothetically come true as seeing the current unprecedented pace of evolving technology. However, it is fair to state that this controversial invention leads to adverse side effects to the stability of the ecosystem since the results of every clinical trial to gene editing are not associated with uncertainties. The procedure of cutting strands of DNA in the cell to remodel the behaviour of the genome would transform the genome structure and also could harm them. Scientific research has proven that CRISPR can
edit a person’s genome that causes the cell’s p53 gene to be faulty and dysfunctional. The consequence of this defective cell causes cells in a person’s body to grow uncontrollably, which promotes cancer. According to the Precautionary Principle, the act of using CRISPR would suggest harm to the gene line is unethical to be implemented as public goods. The complicated relationship between genetic information and biological phenotypes are not fully understood by the user and the low level of risk mitigation to facilitate the experiment. Moreover, how far will this experiment affect the cell development of future generations?
The issue of gene-edited children has drawn the world’s attention and people started to question the morality of utilising CRISPR lab kits. In the context of contextualism, a group of people believe this is a wrong act and identify this action to be disturbing as CRISPR can reconstruct human nature the way they desired. However, not all ethicists think the same way since people have different perspectives on analysing the consequences of an act.
The World Health Organisation is asking scientists to stop conducting any experiments that would lead to the creation of more gene-edited children. However, it is not an easy task for the public health authority to avoid the underground operations performed by unauthorised scientists using CRISPR lab kits. Taking heed of the Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights, CRISPR lab kits should not be accessible to the public as there should be superior regulations governing cellular and gene-therapy research. This type of indicator will facilitate the safety assurance of the experiment development and oversight of some clinical trials.
Logically, CRISPR lab kits are critical in the long term that satisfies humans’ desire to explore something new in the field of genetics. Furthermore, it will change the pattern of the germline and could be transmitted to future generations. Therefore, to what extent does own CRISPR lab kits will lead to the transformation of the present human race?
Considering teleological ethics, we believe granting CRISPR products accessible to the public market is unethical.