Thu, Dec 06, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Gene editing claims spark debate on ethics of embryo research

By Jasper Bovenberg and Bartha Knoppers

This would give the public an opportunity to share knowledge, perspectives, and interests related to how decisions might affect individuals and society as a whole, not to mention the human embryos themselves.

An amicus-type brief could be particularly relevant to bioethics cases, given that most review boards are dominated by technical experts and do not always represent public opinion.

Finally, technocratic committees must never supplant societal or personal responsibility for sensitive issues involving life and death; ethical obligations cannot be offloaded so easily.

As the World Medical Association’s Declaration of Helsinki says, “the responsibility for the protection of research subjects must always rest with the physician or other healthcare professional and never the research subjects” themselves.

One way to instill individual responsibility would be in the form of a personal declaration.

For example, to ensure transparency, scientific journals require authors to declare conflicts of interest.

Likewise, the EU’s regulations for clinical trials require that research proposals include a discussion of ethical implications.

Why should a scientist proposing research on human embryos — or, for that matter, the funders and publishers of that research — be held to a lower standard?

Moral and ethical liability for science in general, and embryo research in particular, should never be outsourced.

On the contrary, it is a weight that must be borne as transparently, inclusively, and judiciously as possible.

Jasper Bovenberg, an attorney at law, is the founder of Legal Pathways Institute for Health and Bio-Law in the Netherlands. BarthaKnoppers is director of the Center of Genomics and Policy at McGill University in Canada.

Copyright: Project Syndicate

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