17 de març 2021

The long and bumpy road to CRISPR (3)

 CRISPR People. The Science and Ethics of Editing Humans

A book on the ethics of CRISPR, without a clear prescription, only a review of He horrendous experiment and a personal view of the current situation.

This has been a cautionary tale about scienceand scientists. People can overreach. He Jiankui, driven as far as I can tell by what Macbeth called “vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself,”1 and aided by a serious lack of scruples, behaved terribly. He put three lives at needless and reckless risk (and tried to do the same to more). The story is also a cautionary tale for Science. He Jiankui damaged Science by reinforcing the Victor Frankenstein image—the mad, uncontrolled scientist. Most scientists, and hence most science, are much more rule bound, constrained by the needs of getting and keeping jobs, tenure, and most importantly grants, as well as wrapped, in most countries, in many bureaucratic threads of control. But He happened, and Science needs both to act to minimize the harm he has caused and to be seen to be doing so.

A global consensus is a chimera. Seven and a half billion people are not going to agree on this issue—nor will the fraction of those who understand it. Neither will the roughly 200 countries of the world, at least at anything other than a lowest common denominator. Not all countries have agreed to various nuclear weapons or climate change treaties in spite of the apparently obvious need for them. If somehow something close to unanimity were achieved, it would probably be at the cost of precision. Thus, the Council of Europe enacted a convention that banned human cloning, but effectively left open the then-hot question whether it covered just reproductive cloning or “research cloning” (of human embryos for only ex vivo use) by not defining a “human being.” It also left the implantation and enforcement of such a ban up to the member nations, some of whom were probably happy, for political reasons, to sign it but will have little interest in enforcing it. 

And this is the controversial position of the author:

 One might argue that human germline genome changes are irreversible, or less reversible, than some other interventions. But is that true? A mistaken genome change could presumably be reedited, in a living person or in that person’s germline (or embryos), to reverse the error. Or it could be selected against in the individual’s offspring, through PGD or otherwise. It could be too late to avoid harm to the edited person, but that mistake will not have to pass on from generation to generation. Human germline genome editing does raise important questions about safety, coercion, equity, diversity, and  enhancement. These are not unique to editing the human germline genome. They also apply to somatic cell DNA editing, to new drugs, to smartphones, to climate change, and to many other changes from technologies. Questions about reversibility also apply; the social effects of cell phones are probably less reversible than genome edits. The fact that a technological change is in “the human germline genome” should have no special ethical weight.

Really? Security in CRISPR is not unique???