CRISPR babies raise an uncomfortable reality – abiding by scientific standards doesn't guarantee ethical research

phys.org | 12/3/2018 | Staff
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Uncertainty continues to swirl around scientist He Jiankui's gene editing experiment in China. Using CRISPR technology, He modified a gene related to immune function in human embryos and transferred the embryos to their mother's womb, producing twin girls.

Many questions about the ethical acceptability of the experiment have focused on ethical oversight and informed consent. These are important issues; compliance with established standards of practice is crucial for public trust in science.

Debate - Experiment - Mistake - Oversight - Acceptability

But public debate about the experiment should not make the mistake of equating ethical oversight with ethical acceptability. Research that follows the rules is not necessarily good by definition. As He pushed ahead with human gene editing, how much he skirted the rules may not be his primary ethical failing.

A statement signed by 122 Chinese scientists proclaimed He's work "crazy" and in violation of ethical standards. Is that really the case?

Scientists - Research - Knowledge - Day - Health

Scientists undertake medical research to generate knowledge that may one day be used to improve human health. This work can help determine new strategies for prevention and early detection of disease, or develop new drugs and new technologies for treatment, for example. Without investigating them, no one knows which preventive measures, diagnostic tools, or treatments are most beneficial. They need to be rigorously tested.

Ethicists tend to focus most on studies that ask a lot of human subjects because these usually carry the most risks for volunteers. Picture a drug study with participants taking an experimental medication, keeping a daily diary of symptoms and side effects, meeting frequently with a physician and so on.

History - Abuse - Misuse - Subjects - Research

There's a long history of abuse and misuse of human subjects in research, from medical workers withholding syphilis treatment from unsuspecting black men in Tuskegeee, Alabama so they could track the disease's progress, to the deliberate infection of research participants with syphilis in Guatemala in the 1940s to...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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