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CRISPR Applications and the Ethical and Moral Obligations of the Government and Society

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sciences
Wordcount: 2555 words Published: 18th May 2020

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Introduction: The CRISPR controversy

Over the last 50 years, the world has seen a continuous uptrend in the various amounts of molecular technology. One of the most interesting technologies is genome editing. Although genome editing itself is not new, the CRISPR system for gene editing has excitement and fear over medical, ethical, and social implications of this technology. CRISPR offers promise in a wide variety of disease context. This article will primarily focus on the bioethics of CRISPR. Discussions of the ethics of CRISPR have been going on for a long time but with clinical trials getting closer and closer to human embryos trial it is more crucial then ever to see where the government and society stands on this topic. In particular, in early 2015, the application of CRISPR on nonviable human embryos sparked heated public debates regarding the appropriate uses of gene editing (Baltimore, 2015). Discussions about CRISPR in recent months indicate an underlying disagreement among researchers about the ethical and social implications of this technology. Some researchers worry that CRISPR will lead to designer babies and eugenics, proliferate social injustice, and risk disastrous changes to society and the environment (Ledford, 2015). These critics appeal to the long history of failed human interventions as evidence that a tool with the breadth and power of CRISPR should be subject to intense scrutiny and regulation. Others seem to characterize CRISPR as ‘just another biotechnology’ (Harris, 2016)

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There are advantages and disadvantages to adopting either of these ethical framings for CRISPR gene editing. For example, the possible dangers of CRISPR gene editing may help slow or eliminate dangerous practices, but it might also hinder beneficial applications. Alternatively, the ‘just another biotechnology’ approach may open the door for beneficial CRISPR research but ignore potential bad consequences of the technology as well as the ways in which older biotechnologies remain ethically controversial. Each approach foregrounds distinctive issues and serves to shift the burden of proof to its deniers.


The process to find this information was very difficult. Using google scholar I was able to search for certain articles that were related to my topic. My topic is CRISPR ethics. Which talks about the problem with the emerging possibilities of gene editing and if is it morally ethically for people to use this technology for their advantage. The first search I made is Applications of CRISPR and ethic morals. This technique helps me find specific articles that have only both topics. Keyword: CRISPR ethics. Next I read the titles to find more specific reading that do in depth on the topic. I came upon a title which was ” Science and Bioethics of CRISPR-Cas9 Gene Editing: An Analysis Towards Separating Facts and Fiction” this article took me to a website which was an archive for journal articles. Using my new search engine, I once again searched for “CRISPR bioethics”. This gave around 30 articles to read and finalize around 10. I found most of my information from this archive.


Table 1. Risk-benefit considerations in CRISPR technology


Risk(s)/ Harm(s)

Basic and pre-clinical research

  • New model organisms and cell lines
  • Increased gene-editing efficiency
  • High-throughput screens
  • Novel drug targets
  • Access to totipotent cells
  • Identification of novel signaling, regulatory, and developmental pathways
  • Development of novel gene-editing approaches (base editing and RNA targeting)
  • Experimentation involving human embryos is controversial and illegal in some countries
  • Potential for privacy and confidentiality breaches

Translational and clinical medicine

  • Immunotherapy
  • Organoids
  • Novel drug targets
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Modification of pathological genes
  • Novel therapeutics and fertility applications
  • Procreative libert
  • Ability to “fix” single base changes
  • Knowledge advancement
  • Potential for equitable access
  • Serious injury, disability, and/or death to research participant(s) and/or offspring
  • Blurry distinction between therapeutic and enhancement applications, leading to potential subtle or obvious exacerbation of inequalities
  • Misapplications

National and international regulations, law and policy

  • Prevention against misuses of technology
  • Safeguard against risky potentially harmful conditions
  • Potential to encroach on individual scientific and social autonomy
  • Limit discovery and progress
  • Difficult enforcement
  • Lack of uniformity may create inconsistencies in applications of laws/ regulations

Figure 1. Bioethics considerations

Table 2. Summary of recommendations in major Group, organizational, and Government Statement relater to human germline gene editing



The Hinxton group

NAS, NAM, CAS  and the UK royal society International summit

NAS and NAM committee on human gene editing

Basic research should be conducted




Diverse stakeholders should be involved




Pre-clinical research should be conducted



Clinical use should not proceed currently




Clinical use should proceed only if safety issues are removed




The “x” indicates agreement towards the argument


CRISPR ethics and Science

Firstly, there are concerns about the power and technical limitations of CRISPR technology. These include the possibilities of incomplete gene editing and inaccurate efficiency. In Table 1. it talks about the benefits and harms of basic and pre-clinical research. The table then proceeds to say we have made advancements in the field of CRISPR as more and more trials in animals have been positive. The main ethical reasoning is how it is illegal to test this new found technology on human embryos. Secondly, it is unclear whether modified organisms will be affected indefinitely and whether the edited genes will be transferred to future generations, potentially affecting them in unexpected ways. Combine this with technical limitations and complexity of biological systems, making precise predictions might be difficult, if not impossible. The uncertainty resulting from these factors complicates moral decision making.  Finally, the relation between genetic information and biological phenotypes is not fully understood. Therefore, the biological consequences can be very drastic.

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Future of CRISPR

By far, one of the biggest ethical concerns for CRISPR is the argument of playing god. With the speed the technology is improving at it is only a matter of time before we start changing the nuclear DNA and eventually start creating “designer’ babies. Experts argue that this would deprive the future generations of the right to receive an unaltered gene pool. The main fear is that once society reaches the point of altering DNA is not an issue, what else will be do to hard the social economic standards. Figure 1. relates to the bioethics considerations of CRISPR. It is clearly shown that 54% of the votes are made against the use of CRISPR at this current time. The rest of the 46% vary from open to the idea of using CRISPR to let’s put money into this program and start intense clinical trials.


CRISPR technology continues to mature, and existing systems are being engineered to contain innovative capabilities; excitingly new CRISPR systems with novel functions are still being discovered. The potential benefits of such revolutionary tools are endless. However, like any powerful tool, there are also risks raising moral concerns. To make the correct decisions about the ethical suction of this technology Currently, this is difficult because many international laws discourage or ban such research. This makes sense as the technology is still not fully tested and could possible be very devasting if used without proper testing. With that being said is it important to note that changing government laws on human embryos testing will be very difficulty to do. Thus, widespread data about benefits and risks are unavailable. It is critical, however, for countries to examine their reasoning behind these prohibitions to ensure that they are not simply arising out of fear and without reasonable justification.

As the technology evolves, so will discussions about ethical and legal frameworks circumscribing its uses. The above-mentioned platforms present interesting ideas for furthering debates and potential resolutions. The research and ethical guidelines from national and international organizations, where diverse disciplines of societies contribute, will be critical for federal funding agencies and institutional review boards to enforce and regulate, to minimize the potentials risks and maximize the potential benefits of CRISPR technology. 


  • Haris Babačić, Aditi Mehta, Olivia Merkel, Benedikt Schoser
  • PLoS One. 2019; 14(2): e0212198. Published online 2019 Feb 22. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0212198
  • Figure 2f from: Irimia R, Gottschling M (2016) Taxonomic revision of Rochefortia Sw. (Ehretiaceae, Boraginales). Biodiversity Data Journal 4: E7720. https://doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.4.e7720. (n.d.). CRISPR Ethics: Moral Considerations for Applications of a Powerful Tool. doi:10.3897/bdj.4.e7720.figure2f
  • Baumann, M. Nanoethics (2016) 10: 139. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11569-016-0259-0
  • Brokowski, C. (2018). Do CRISPR Germline Ethics Statements Cut It? The CRISPR Journal,1(2), 115-125. doi:10.1089/crispr.2017.0024
  • Fogleman, S., Santana, C., Bishop, C., Miller, A., & Capco, D. G. (2016). CRISPR/Cas9 and mitochondrial gene replacement therapy: promising techniques and ethical considerations. American journal of stem cells5(2), 39–52.
  • Human Germline Genome Editing. (n.d.). doi:10.3897/bdj.4.e7720.figure2f
  • Figure 2f from: Irimia R, Gottschling M (2016) Taxonomic revision of Rochefortia Sw. (Ehretiaceae, Boraginales). Biodiversity Data Journal 4: E7720. https://doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.4.e7720. (n.d.). Genome-Editing Technologies: Concept, Pros, and Cons of Various Genome-Editing Techniques and Bioethical Concerns for Clinical Application. doi:10.3897/bdj.4.e7720.figure2f
  • Mulvihill, J. J., Capps, B., Joly, Y., Lysaght, T., Zwart, H. A., & Chadwick, R. (2017). Ethical issues of CRISPR technology and gene editing through the lens of solidarity. British Medical Bulletin,122(1), 17-29. doi:10.1093/bmb/ldx002
  • Figure 2f from: Irimia R, Gottschling M (2016) Taxonomic revision of Rochefortia Sw. (Ehretiaceae, Boraginales). Biodiversity Data Journal 4: E7720. https://doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.4.e7720. (n.d.). CRISPR as a Driving Force: The Model T of Biotechnology. doi:10.3897/bdj.4.e7720.figure2f
  • Figure 2f from: Irimia R, Gottschling M (2016) Taxonomic revision of Rochefortia Sw. (Ehretiaceae, Boraginales). Biodiversity Data Journal 4: E7720. https://doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.4.e7720. (n.d.). Should CRISPR Scientists Play God?doi:10.3897/bdj.4.e7720.figure2f
  • Harris, J. 2016. Germline modification and the burden of human existence. Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 25(1): 1–13.
  • Ledford, H. 2015. CRISPR, the disruptor. Nature 522(7554): 20–24.
  • Baltimore, D., F. Baylis, P. Berg, G.Q. Daley, J.A. Doudna, E.S. Lander, R. Lovell-Badge, P. Ossorio, D. Pei, A. Thrasher, E. Winnacker, and Q. Zhou. 2015a. On human gene editing: International summit statement. http://www8.nationalacademies.org/onpinews/newsitem.aspx?RecordID=12032015a


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