Driven to extinction? The ethics of eradicating mosquitoes with gene-drive technologies

Journal of Medical Ethics 42 (9):578-581 (2016)
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Abstract
Mosquito-borne diseases represent a significant global disease burden, and recent outbreaks of such diseases have led to calls to reduce mosquito populations. Furthermore, advances in ‘gene-drive’ technology have raised the prospect of eradicating certain species of mosquito via genetic modification. This technology has attracted a great deal of media attention, and the idea of using gene-drive technology to eradicate mosquitoes has been met with criticism in the public domain. In this paper, I shall dispel two moral objections that have been raised in the public domain against the use of gene-drive technologies to eradicate mosquitoes. The first objection invokes the concept of the ‘sanctity of life’ in order to claim that we should not drive an animal to extinction. In response, I follow Peter Singer in raising doubts about general appeals to the sanctity of life, and argue that neither individual mosquitoes nor mosquitoes species considered holistically are appropriately described as bearing a significant degree of moral status. The second objection claims that seeking to eradicate mosquitoes amounts to displaying unacceptable degrees of hubris. Although I argue that this objection also fails, I conclude by claiming that it raises the important point that we need to acquire more empirical data about, inter alia, the likely effects of mosquito eradication on the ecosystem, and the likelihood of gene-drive technology successfully eradicating the intended mosquito species, in order to adequately inform our moral analysis of gene-drive technologies in this context.
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Archival date: 2018-09-17
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