A critical review of the ethical and legal issues in human germline gene editing: Considering human rights and a call for an African perspective

South African Journal of Bioethics and Law 13 (1):62 (2020)
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In the wake of the advent of genome editing technology CRISPR-Cas9 (clustered regularly interspaced palindromic repeat (CRISPR)-associated protein 9), there has been a global debate around the implications of manipulating the human genome. While CRISPR-based germline gene editing is new, the debate about the ethics of gene editing is not – for several decades now, scholars have debated the ethics of making heritable changes to the human genome. The arguments that have been raised both for and against the use of genetic technologies in human reproduction reiterate much of the arguments made in the pre-CRISPR debate. As such, it is instructive for South Africa to reflect on these arguments now, in considering our position on the regulation of the use of this novel biotechnology. There are two dominant schools of thought in this area, bioliberalism and bioconservatism. Bioconservatives raise concerns about the risks of genetic manipulation, and argue that it ought to be limited or prohibited to avert these risks to human health and human nature. Bioliberal scholars are more open to the prospect of genetic manipulation, because of its potential utility. In this article, I conclude that in liberal democracies such as our own, bioliberal arguments ought to be seriously considered when formulating policy on human genome editing because of the extent to which they resonate with our Constitutional values and human rights. I further suggest that there is a need for an enquiry into the relevance of African perspectives on the ethical questions that arise concerning germline genome editing.

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Bonginkosi Shozi
University of California, San Diego


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