Designer babies? CRISPR cucumbers? Time for a global citizens’ ethics assembly

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Credit: Rocco Baviera

[The] implications [of gene editing] are so profound that a growing group of experts believe it is too important a matter to be left only to scientists, doctors and politicians.

Writing in the journal Science, 25 leading researchers from across the globe call for the creation of national and global “citizens’ assemblies”, made up of lay-people, tasked with considering the ethical and social impacts of this emerging science.

Gene editing potentially offers a way to change mosquitoes and wipe out malaria, to boost crop resilience and reduce starvation, or to produce pigs full of organs easily transplanted into humans.

[Professor John] Dryzek and colleagues believe that citizens’ assemblies – groups of lay-people tasked with diving deep into the ethical and moral issues thrown up by genome editing – will provide a valuable guide for scientists, doctors and politicians around the world.

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“The fact that they are made up of citizens with no history of activism on an issue means they are good at reflecting upon the relative weight of different values and principles,” Professor Dryzek said.

“Think of how we trust juries in court cases to reach good judgements. Deliberation is a particularly good way to harness the wisdom of crowds, as it enables participants to piece together the different bits of information that they hold in constructive and considered fashion.”

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