Ethics and the controversial decision to make gene-edited babies

He Jiankui of China.

For someone who has caused a worldwide uproar over what many fellow scientists consider an ethical outrage, He Jiankui of China spent a remarkable amount of time discussing his work — which he claims led to the births of the first babies whose genomes had been edited when they were IVF embryos — with bioethicists, policy experts, and social scientists.

Two of them are father and son: Dr. William Hurlbut of Stanford University, a member of the U.S. President’s Council on Bioethics in the early 2000s, and J. Benjamin Hurlbut of Arizona State University, a biomedical historian. The Hurlbuts have discussed the ethics of human genome editing with He more than any other scholars in the West and probably the world.

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Though neither Hurlbut supports what He has done, both came away from these conversations with an impression of He as a well-meaning and thoughtful scientist — and, as the younger Hurlbut put it, not a “rogue.”


He asked Hurlbut whether opponents of such research in the U.S. were members of fringe groups, or reflected a majority view. “He wanted to understand what that was about,” Hurlbut said.

“I knew where he was heading and tried to give him a sense of the practical and ethical implications,” Hurlbut said. “But he kept returning to the good that could be done.”

Read full, original post: He took a crash course in bioethics. Then he created CRISPR babies

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