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George Church, professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, and Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, put forth opposing points of view on ethical questions surrounding germline editing. Eager to continue the conversation, Church later wrote a point-by-point response to Collins’ essay, presented below as a dialogue.
Collins: The ethical arguments against human germline engineering are significant. A most compelling one is that medical research should always seek to balance benefits and risks, with individuals who are participating in research giving fully informed consent. But the individuals whose lives are potentially affected by germline manipulation could extend many generations into the future. They can’t give consent to having their genomes altered from what nature would have made possible.
Church: Parents do not get consent from future generations to make mutations in gametes via excessive time at high altitude, or to alter young minds with rules, tools, and schools. Each of these can be transmitted to multiple generations (some without changing DNA, some harder to reverse than DNA changes).
Collins: Evolution has been working toward optimizing the human genome for 3.85 billion years. Do we really think that some small group of human genome tinkerers could do better without all sorts of unintended consequences?
Church: Those billions of years were spent optimizing the human genome for environments and goals very different from those found in modern times. Humans are not optimally adapted for desk work, high-rise megacities, or space travel.
Read full, original post: A debate: Should we edit the human germline?