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In February 2016, the UK’s first licence to use CRISPR/Cas9 genome-editing techniques in human embryo research was granted to Dr Kathy Niakan of the Francis Crick Institute, London. The decision sparked further debate on this controversial topic.
While the technology allows for precise ‘editing’ of the human genome at the single nucleotide level – signalling its potential to eradicate inheritable diseases – the attendant social, ethical and legal implications of the technology are complex. While the licence granted to Dr Niakan is limited (transfer of the edited embryos for gestation is strictly prohibited under its terms), the decision to grant the license in the first place was interpreted by some as the first step towards permitting so-called ‘genetically modified‘ babies, as well as a permanent modification of the human germline.
One objection, which lies at the very heart of the genome-editing debate, focuses on the physical and symbolic relationship of our genetic make-up to our sense of identity. Unlike prenatal testing or pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), which rely on the principles of detection, selection and/or elimination of embryos or fetuses affected by genetic diseases, genome editing is so controversial because, when used on a mass scale, it has the potential to entirely remove particular genetic diseases from the human germline.
Read full, original post: Identity, disability and the genome