“In places like Burkina Faso, for instance, it is being touted as a silver bullet to get rid of malaria. But these technologies also have the potential to forever change the genetic makeup of species, or even drive certain species to extinction. Lack of global governance puts our planet at risk.”
In the paper, the authors propose the formation of a new coordinating global body with the power to convene communities, developers, governmental organizations, and NGOs to assure careful and inclusive deliberation over all proposals. Such an organization would provide neutral oversight over decision-making and integrate diverse expertise and perspectives, including participants from impacted local communities.
“Confronting this challenge goes beyond just the inclusion of empirical, scientific data, to also bring in value systems, ethics, and relationships with nature, relationships with technology, and historically marginalized voices to make a fully informed decision,” said Kofler. “Our proposal provides a blue-print on how to enact a new model of governance, one built on the integration of empirical and normative inputs, that includes diverse expertise and worldviews.”
The paper was inspired by the Editing Nature Summit
, chaired by Kofler and hosted at Yale in the spring of 2017. During the two-day event, participants from a range of disciplines grappled with the ethical questions surrounding the development and deployment of gene editing technologies into the environment. Of critical importance, they concluded, are the questions of who gets to decide what technologies are used and the process by which they reach that decision.
The co-authors, who all participated in the summit, represent 12 different academic institutions and more than dozen disciplines, including ecology, genetics, philosophy, policy, and journalism.
In the paper, they looked in particular at CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) gene editing and other related technologies like gene drives, which are designed to spread genetic changes — including traits such as infertility — through populations of species.
But if these technologies have the potential to eliminate threats to public health or ecosystems, little is known about potential side effects, such as unwanted mutations and new evolutionary resistance.