Editing Embryos: Considering Restrictions on Genetically Engineering Humans

Anna Zaret

Volume 67, Issue 6, 1805-40

In April 2015, scientists used a new genetic engineering tool known as CRISPR to edit the genes of a human embryo for the first time. CRISPR has made gene editing cheaper, more efficient, and more accurate than ever before. These advances in technology indicate that in the near future, technology will enable the genes of embryos to be edited, leading to the birth of the first “genetically modified human.” This Note explores the potential benefits and risks of editing embryos for reproductive purposes, and problematizes the lack of meaningful public regulation or deliberation in the United States on editing embryos. Given this risk of misuse, the United States needs to democratically develop regulations that ensure that the free market is not the only constraint on the practice of genetically modifying embryos.

In order to demonstrate these points, this Note evaluates the potential beneficial uses for editing embryos, and weighs those benefits against the potential dangers of editing embryos. In discussing the dangers, it discusses individual health and safety risks, as well as societal risks, including the possibility that embryo editing facilitates a new type of eugenics. After evaluating the promises and perils of edited embryos, it discusses the lack of regulatory oversight of editing embryos in the United States, as compared to other technologically advanced countries. Given the lack of limits on genetically modifying embryos in the United States, and the dangers that editing embryos pose to individuals and society, thoughtful public policy discussion on how to regulate this technology is needed. This Note proposes several recommendations for how the law can help facilitate democratic discussion about whether, or under what circumstances, editing embryos should be permitted. Finally, this Note addresses two arguments that may be raised against regulation, and analyzes why neither of these arguments provide a strong reason to reject regulation

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