Adopt a moratorium on heritable genome editing

Eric S. Lander
Françoise Baylis
Feng Zhang
Emmanuelle Charpentier
Paul Berg
Catherine Bourgain
Bärbel Friedrich
J. Keith Joung
Jinsong Li
David Liu
Luigi Naldini
Jing-Bao Nie
Renzong Qiu
Bettina Schoene-Seifert
Feng Shao
Sharon Terry
Wensheng Wei
Ernst-Ludwig Winnacker
Following the reveal of He Jiankui’s experiments, Eric S. Lander and colleagues—a collection of scientists and bioethicists across seven countries—argue in favor of a global moratorium on heritable human genome editing. The moratorium that they call for beings as absolute, but following the development of an international framework, permissions to engage in human germline editing would be decided on a nation-by-nation basis. They suggest the World Health Organization (WHO) as a potential institution to oversee the construction of a global framework via an international panel. The authors argue that this would allow both global flexibility in the imposition of moratoria on human germline editing and a period of deliberation that engages publics to ensure “broad societal consensus” (2019:165) within nations regarding use of human germline editing technologies. The authors list a range of considerations that suggest the temporary moratorium, foregrounding “technical,” “scientific,” and “medical” considerations and separating them from “social, ethical, and moral” ones. They contrast the promise and flexibility of a voluntary moratorium with the ultimately unsuccessful attempts to impose a broad legally binding ban on human cloning. Their example of a process that individual nations might follow to allow human germline editing places the public in a reactive role, given a two-year period to respond to a proposed application and determine consensus. The authors call for an inclusive and equitable process to include diverse perspectives in shaping such consensus. Specifically, they note: “[I]t is essential to include those representing perspectives outside science and medicine—including people with disabilities, patients and their families, economically disadvantaged communities, historically marginalized groups, religious groups and civil society at large” (2019:168). They point to the Observatory as one institution working to address the challenges with developing consensus.