On the Technical and Moral Distinctions Between Germline Genome Editing via CRISPR and Existing Genetic Trait Selection Methods Open Access

Marshall, Naomi Elizabeth Ann (Summer 2018)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/k643b1232?locale=en


This thesis explores whether there is a morally relevant distinction between human embryonic genome-editing via CRISPR-Cas9 and existing genetic trait selection methods. Numerous advocates, from academia and the public alike, have argued that utilizing CRISPR to edit targeted genes in human embryos does not differ significantly to legalized genetic trait selection methods – including shopping for gamete donors; and selective implantation of embryos after preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). This thesis will counter their position. I argue CRISPR is not only different in degree but also different in kind to existing genetic trait selection methods owing to the nature of CRISPR’s technical intervention. Existing methods involve choosing between embryos, whilst CRISPR entails genome editing. Although current policy on reproductive technologies necessitates considerations on the intents and consequences of each new intervention method, this is insufficient for evaluating a fundamentally different intervention procedure. McKibben’s (2003) paper on “designer genes” will be used to introduce three bioethical lenses through which the novelty of CRISPR can be analyzed: debates on the moral status of embryos and germline genomes; persisting personal identity; and making heritable interventions. Rather than evaluating the ethics of CRISPR, which would involve judgement on the intents, techniques, and consequences of the intervention, this paper argues for an amendment on the lack of academic attention toward the moral relevance of techniques.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Aims, Objectives, and Research Questions 2

Setting Investigation Parameters 4

Context 7

What is CRISPR 7

On Metaphors for CRISPR: Benefits and Cautions 11

Case Study: The Complexities of “Correcting” the NF1 Gene via CRISPR 15

Existing Genetic Trait Selection Methods 18

Section 1: Literature Review – Evaluating Arguments on the Presence of a Morally Relevant Distinction Between Genetic Trait Selection Techniques 21

What Are Morally Relevant Distinctions? 21

Enhancement Debates as the Research Problem 25

Evaluating Arguments 29

Introduction of arguments 30

Testing arguments according to Timmons’ criteria 32

Evaluating McKibben 34

Evaluating Sandel 37

Evaluating Kass 41

Section Review 43

Section 2: Identifying the Morally Relevant Feature of CRISPR 46

Heritability 47

Moral Status 49

Persisting Personhood 59

Conclusion: Recommendations 63

Bibliography 68

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