In August 2017, scientists reported that they had used the gene-editing tool CRISPR–Cas9 to correct a mutation in viable human embryos. The work is just one of countless applications of the technique, with which scientists hope to alter plants, animals and humans.
The value of most applications of the technology has barely been exposed to public review. Unless these editorial aspirations are more inclusively debated, well-intentioned research could move humanity closer to a future it has not assented to and might not want.
Over the past three years, leading scientists have called for global deliberation on the possible effects of gene editing on the human future. The discussions that have taken place fall far short of the expansive, cosmopolitan conversation that is needed.
To break out of the bifurcation between the ‘science’ and the ‘ethics’, methods must be found to get people to engage substantively with each other. An entirely new type of infrastructure is needed to promote a richer, more complex conversation — one that does not originate from scientific research agendas but that instead invites multiple viewpoints.