A new gene editing technique, called CRISPR Cas9, has radically simplified our ability to change genomes. Already used in monkeys, it is nearly ready for use in humans. It holds enormous potential for improving human health. However, if used to change human germline cells, those changes could be passed on from one generation to the next. This power raises such profound questions that the inventors of CRISPR Cas9 have themselves called for a moratorium on its use in humans, providing time to consider whether and how to deploy it. An international commission has been formed by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Their deliberations are likely to focus more on issues of safety and fair access to the technology’s benefits than on questions about how gene editing in humans may affect “human flourishing” – that is, core human values and ways of being such as love, compassion, acceptance, and humility.
To address this broader set of questions, The Hastings Center will convene scholars who have perspectives on various aspects of human flourishing as well as experience related to genetic engineering. After an in-person workshop at The Hastings Center, scholars will develop chapters for a book on gene editing and human flourishing. Oxford University Press has expressed interest in publishing it. In addition to this scholarly work, Hastings will mount a public engagement campaign and numerous activities, both in-person and through social and digital media to ensure that the ideas in our scholarly volume will be taken up in the public square. Working collaboratively with a number of organizations, including the National Association of Science Writers, the Association of Health Care Journalists and the National Science Teachers Association, we will reach scientists, humanities scholars, health care and science journalists, high school teachers and the general public.