Sunday, November 21, 2021

PNAS Opinion Piece on Global Governance of Genome Editing

The latest issue of PNAS has this interesting opinion piece on the global governance of genome editing.  The recommendations include encouraging prominent journals and conferences to help facilitate dialogue on these issues, ensuring more scientists from developing countries are involved and historically neglected regions and countries, as well as collaboration between private and public funding agencies in science and medicine.  

I myself remain somewhat skeptical that the sound policy regulation of these technologies simply requires more global participation in these debates.  Yes these measures would, as the title of the article ("Toward Inclusive Global Governance of Human Genome Editing") suggests, make the governance of genome editing more inclusive.  But I think the goal to should be competent governance (i.e. socially responsibly governance, to realize the opportunities of genome editing and minimize any potential harms) vs "inclusive" governance.  I agree that competent governance does entail a certain level of inclusiveness from different stake holders, but the thrust of this opinion piece seems to equate an "inclusive regulation" with a "morally defensible and socially responsible" regulation of genome editing.  I believe greater inclusivity is a necessary, but not sufficient, requirement of sound governance of genome editing.  And if taken too far, it can be an epistemic vice or constraint vs virtue.        

A sample from the article:  

In recent years, many have considered how best to govern increasingly powerful genome editing technologies. Since 2015, more than 60 statements, declarations, and other codes of practice have been published by international organizations and scientific institutions (1). In particular, the 2018 birth of two twins, Lulu and Nana—whose HIV-receptors CCR5 were altered by biophysics researcher He Jiankui—triggered widespread condemnation from the scientific community, the public, and even legal institutions. Eminent organizations that have opined on the matter include the World Health Organization’s Expert Advisory Committee on Developing Global Standards for Governance and Oversight of Human Genome Editing (WHO committee) and the International Commission on the Clinical Use of Human Germline Genome Editing (the international commission).

....Science is evolving at a feverish pace. Technological development is no longer the purview of a few leading academic institutes and a handful of entrepreneurial forerunners, as illustrated with the rise of CRISPR-based technologies driving the democratization of genome editing. Accordingly, governance by the few for all is no longer appropriate nor acceptable. Each approach suggested above has seen some historical success and has potential to improve governance of human genome editing. We must combine these tools into an integrated network. Standards and agreements independently launched by academic journals, funding agencies, and international professional organizations could mutually reinforce each other. Key individuals and organizations could play the critical role as the bridges connecting different approaches. The global governance of human genome editing urgently needs the wisdom of the entire global scientific community as well as those in related fields and interested members of the general public.