In Search of Limits in the Age of Genome Editing, May 13, 2022

In the past five years, we have seen the emergence of a global patchwork of laws, policies, recommendations, proposals, conventions, and declarations that define and delimit the field of permissible genome editing research. This workshop aims to explore the concepts of limits that are reflected in these developments: limits to technological applications, to research, and to knowledge; limits on the scope of deliberation and extent of participation, on the range of moral questions that should be asked, and on the forms of reasoning, evidence, and expertise required to make informed and democratic decisions.

We will build on the 2017 “Editorial Aspirations” conference at Harvard that provided a forum for discussing the future of human genome editing, a discussion that ultimately led to the formation of the Global Observatory. The succeeding five years have brought a proliferation of policy approaches intended to set bounds on gene editing research and applications, even as science and technology continue to forge ahead. Numerous international expert advisory bodies have taken a leading role in delimiting responsible from irresponsible research, with different framings and outcomes. 

Given the complexity of the ethical landscape and the variety of mechanisms at work in setting limits, we aim to think systematically about how limits to human genome editing are being defined and to identify salient issues and positions that may be receiving less attention than deserved. In short, the workshop hopes to characterize how today’s discussion of limits may itself be limiting. This workshop therefore seeks to further the Global Observatory’s mission of broadening the present scope of deliberation, centering not just on the limits themselves, but also on the processes that institutionalize them, the voices that contribute to them, the human values that animate them, and the forces that may push back against them.