Recent scientific advances are delivering dramatic new powers for targeted gene editing. In what MIT Tech Review has called the “biggest biotech discovery of the century,” CRISPR/Cas9 (and related techniques) promise easy-to-do, inexpensive, and highly precise genetic deletions, insertions, and functional manipulations to basic genetic processes across the full spectrum of living beings. This holds great promise for advances in agriculture, animal studies, and fundamental biomedical research, but raises difficult questions when applied to direct interventions in human life. With this project, we propose a comprehensive program of reflection, deliberation, and education aimed at assessing and wisely advancing the constructive prospects for our new tools of gene editing. In this planning phase, we will conduct a series of workshops that will draw together leading scientists, scholars, and representatives from civil and religious communities. Through sustained and respectful conversation, we will seek a thorough understanding of the realistic scientific possibilities, together with a shared vocabulary of conceptual terms, concerns, and goals to assess and evaluate the uses of our advancing technologies. A second goal is to determine the most effective means of public outreach to educate, inform, and encourage active engagement to address these important issues. The project team will undertake a broad review of relevant scientific, philosophical, and theological literature to prepare for the workshop discussions and to enrich our reflections. Together, these activities will result in reports on the workshops, identification of ethical and policy issues, and articulation of a broad public educational strategy. These outputs will, in turn, set the foundations for a wider project of discussion and education in the search for common principles to guide our public deliberations, policy approaches, and scientific self-governance.
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