Magazine article Issues in Science and Technology

Public Role in Reviewing Gene Editing

Magazine article Issues in Science and Technology

Public Role in Reviewing Gene Editing

Article excerpt

In "CRISPR Democracy: Gene Editing and the Need for Inclusive Deliberation" (Issues, Fall 2015), Sheila Jasanoff, J. Benjamin Hurlbut, and Krishanu Saha argue that the 1975 Asilomar summit is an unsuitable model for evaluating emerging science and technology. They maintain that although review by researchers and other experts is a necessary part of deliberation about science policy and practice, it is insufficient. In a democracy, members of the public should have a role in such deliberation.

I agree wholeheartedly. Gene editing is just one of many contemporary scientific developments that ought to receive more public consideration than they have. Examples of such developments include gene drives, human-animal chimeras, and dual-use research. To date, policy deliberation and debate on these topics has been conducted primarily by expert groups composed of scientists, bioethicists, and other professionals.

Not surprisingly, scientists tend to favor narrow limits on research. As Jasanoff, Hurlbut, and Saha observe, participants in the Asilomar summit adopted a restrictive definition of risk that greatly influenced subsequent formal regulation. The approach has contributed to ongoing controversies over recombinant DNA (rDNA) applications, such as genetically modified crops. It has also contributed to public mistrust about some rDNA applications.

The challenge is to design and conduct a process that allows meaningful, ongoing public engagement. As a scholar focused on bioethics and policy, I have spent my entire career as an outsider in medicine and science. …

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