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Germline Modification and the Burden of Human Existence

  • JOHN HARRIS
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References

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Notes

1. Harris, J. On Cloning. London: Routledge; 2004: 89.

2. See Harris, J. In Vitro fertilisation: The ethical issues. The Philosophical Quarterly 1983;33:132.

3. See note 1, Harris 2004, at ix.

4. Brian K. The amazing story of IVF: 35 years and five million babies later. The Guardian 2013 July 12; available at http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/jul/12/story-ivf-five-million-babies (last accessed 1 Apr 2015).

5. I organized a public lecture in Manchester shortly after the birth of Louise Brown was announced at which Patrick Steptoe spoke. I remember the university had to lay on special security for him because of the controversy the first test-tube baby had caused.

6. “Test-tube baby” Brown hails pioneers on 35th birthday. BBC News 2013 Jul 25; available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-23448665 (last accessed 3 Apr 2015).

7. I have not forgotten that this particular baby was an angelic-looking sheep. The subsequent discussion follows lines I first developed back in 2004 in On Cloning (see note 1, Harris 2004).

8. Wilmut, I, Schnieke, AE, McWhir, J, Kind, AJ, Campbell, KHS. Viable offspring derived from fetal and adult mammalian cells. Cloning and Stem Cells 2007;9(1):37.

9. See National Bioethics Advisory Commission. Cloning Human Beings: Report and Recommendations of the National Bioethics Advisory Commission. Rockville, MD; 1997 Jun; available at https://bioethicsarchive.georgetown.edu/nbac/pubs/cloning1/cloning.pdf (last accessed 8 Apr 2015).

10. Quoted from President Clinton’s weekly radio broadcast, reported in Bioworld Today 1998 Jan 13;9(7). Interestingly, the National Bioethics Advisory Commission (see note 9) stated that it was unethical because it was unsafe. Clinton either misread his advisors’ report or decided to add “morally unacceptable” on top of the fact that it was untested and unsafe, rather than simply stating that it was unsafe because it was untested.

11. Bush GW. President discusses stem cell research. The White House; 2001 Aug 9; available at http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2001/08/20010809-2.html (last accessed 8 Apr 2015).

12. Compassion in World Farming. Farm Animal Cloning: A Compassion in World Farming Report; 2010, at 24; available at https://www.ciwf.org.uk/media/3816935/farm-animal-cloning-report.pdf (last accessed 8 Apr 2015).

13. Reported in BioCentury, the Bernstein Report on BioBusiness 1998 Jan 19.

14. The European Parliament. Resolution on Cloning, 1997 O.J. (C 115) 14.4/92 (1997 Mar 12), at paragraph B and clause 1.

15. Based on birthrate figures from http://www.ecology.com/birth-death-rates/ (last accessed 3 Apr 2015).

16. Oral presentation by Marcy Darnovsky at a workshop of the United States Institute of Medicine of the National Academies Board on Health Sciences Policy entitled “Ethical and Social Policy Considerations of Novel Techniques for Prevention of Maternal Transmission of Mitochondrial DNA Diseases,” Washington, DC, March 31–April 1, 2015. I am relying on my recollection of what she said in my presence at the meeting. See also Darnovsky M. World view column: A slippery slope to human germline modification. Nature 2013;499:127. doi:10.1038/499127a; available at http://www.nature.com/polopoly_fs/1.13358!/menu/main/topColumns/topLeftColumn/pdf/499127a.pdf (last accessed 7 Apr 2015).

17. Harris, J. Wonderwoman and Superman: The Ethics of Human Biotechnology. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 1992, chap. 8.

18. Vogel G, Stokstad E. U.K. Parliament approves controversial three-parent mitochondrial gene therapy. ScienceInsider 2015 Feb 3; available at http://news.sciencemag.org/biology/2015/02/u-k-parliament-approves-controversial-three-parent-mitochondrial-gene-therapy (last accessed 7 Apr 2015).

19. The National Academies. Project information: Ethical and Social Policy Considerations of Novel Techniques for Prevention of Maternal Transmission of Mitochondrial DNA Diseases. National Academies Current Projects; 2015; available at http://www8.nationalacademies.org/cp/projectview.aspx?key=49648 (last accessed 7 Apr 2015).

20. UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights; 1997 Nov 11; available at http://www.refworld.org/docid/404226144.html (last accessed 9 Apr 2015). This document absurdly endorses “the preservation of the human genome as common heritage of humanity.”

21. Harris, J. Enhancing Evolution. Princeton, NJ, and Oxford: Princeton University Press; 2007.

22. Dawkins, R. The Selfish Gene. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 1976.

23. See note 21, Harris 2007.

24. Cyranoski D, Reardon S. Chinese scientists genetically modify human embryos. Nature 2015 Apr 22; available at http://www.nature.com/news/chinese-scientists-genetically-modify-human-embryos-1.17378 (last accessed 25 Apr 2015). See also Reardon S. Ethics of embryo editing paper divides scientists. Nature 2015 Apr 24; available at http://www.nature.com/news/ethics-of-embryo-editing-paper-divides-scientists-1.17410 (last accessed 25 Apr 2015), for some of my comments on this development.

25. Baltimore, D, Berg, P, Botchan, M, Carroll, D, Charo, RA, Church, G, et al. A prudent path forward for genomic engineering and germline gene modification. Science; forthcoming; available at http://www.sciencemag.org/content/early/2015/03/18/science.aab1028.full (last accessed 26 Mar 2015). Cyranoski D. Ethics of embryo editing divides scientists. Nature 2015 Mar;519:272; available at http://www.nature.com/news/ethics-of-embryo-editing-divides-scientists-1.17131 (last accessed 26 Mar 2015). Lanphier E, Urnov F, Haecker SE, Werner M, Smolenski J. Don’t edit the human germ line. Nature 2015 Mar;519:410–11; available at http://www.nature.com/news/don-t-edit-the-human-germ-line-1.17111 (last accessed 26 Mar 2015). Vogel, G. Embryo engineering alarm. Science 2015;347(6228):1301; available at http://www.sciencemag.org/content/347/6228/1301.full (last accessed 26 Mar 2015).

26. See note 25, Baltimore et al. forthcoming, at 2.

27. The Human Fertilization and Embryology Act 1990 c.37; available at http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1990/37/contents (last accessed 7 Apr 2015). See also the amendment by the Human Fertilization and Embryology Act 2008 c.22; available at http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2008/22/contents (last accessed 7 Apr 2015).

28. Department of Health and Social Security. Report of the Committee of Inquiry into Human Fertilisation and Embryology (The Warnock Report); Cm 9314; 1984 July; available at http://www.hfea.gov.uk/docs/Warnock_Report_of_the_Committee_of_Inquiry_into_Human_Fertilisation_and_Embryology_1984.pdf (last accessed 7 Apr 2015).

29. Lisa Jardine, quoted in Sample I. Regulator to consult public over plans for new fertility treatments. The Guardian 2012 Sep 17; available at http://www.theguardian.com/science/2012/sep/17/genetics-embryo-dna-mitochondrial-disease?newsfeed=true (last accessed 8 Apr 2015).

30. See note 29, Sample 2012.

31. The March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation. March of Dimes Global Report on Birth Defects. New York: White Plains; 2006.

32. Boklage, CE. Survival probability of human conceptions from fertilization to term. International Journal of Fertility 1990;35(2):7594. See also Leridon, H. Human Fertility: The Basic Components. Chicago: University of Chicago Press; 1977; Green, RM. The Human Embryo Research Debates. New York: Oxford University Press; 2001, at n185. A figure of 70 percent total embryo loss is confirmed by Macklon, NS, Geraedts, JP, Fauser, BC. Conception to ongoing pregnancy: The “black box” of early pregnancy loss. Human Reproduction Update 2002;8(4):333–43.Edmonds, DK, Lindsay, KS, Miller, JF, Williamson, E, Wood, PJ. Early embryonic mortality in women. Obstetrical & Gynecological Survey 1983;38(7):433–4. Edmonds et al. give a figure of 61.9 percent loss before 12 weeks, but because this figure does not include embryo loss before implantation or from miscarriage after 12 weeks, the figure of 80 percent may be more accurate. Roberts, CJ, Lowe, CR. Where have all the conceptions gone? Lancet 1975;1:498–9. See also Bovens, L. The rhythm method and embryonic death. Journal of Medical Ethics 2006;32(6):355–7.

33. Kong, A, Frigge, ML, Masson, G, Besenbacher, S, Sulem, P, Magnusson, G, et al. Rate of de novo mutations and the importance of father’s age to disease risk. Nature 2012;488(7412):471–5.

34. Palacios-González, C, Harris, J, Testa, G. Multiplex parenting: IVG and the generations to come. Journal of Medical Ethics 2014;40(11):752–8.doi:10.1136/medethics-2013-101810.

35. Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. Meeting #2: Public Workshop of the Committee on Ethical and Social Policy Considerations of Novel Techniques for Prevention of Maternal Transmission of Mitochondrial DNA Diseases; available at http://www.iom.edu/Activities/Research/MitoEthics/2015-MAR-31.aspx (last accessed 7 Apr 2015).

36. See note 19, the National Academies 2015.

37. Parfit, D. Reasons and Persons. Oxford: Clarendon Press; 1984, at part 4, chap. 16, 351–77.

38. I develop the importance of this imperative—“to act for the best all things considered”—in my new book: Harris, J. How to Be Good. Oxford: Oxford University Press; forthcoming.

39. I develop this idea in Harris forthcoming (see note 38) and in Harris, J. Rights and reproductive choice. In: Harris, J, Holm, S, eds. The Future of Human Reproduction: Choice and Regulation. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 1998:537. See also Harris, J. The Value of Life. London: Routledge; 1985.

40. National Institutes of Health. Statement on NIH funding of research using gene-editing technologies in human embryos. The NIH Director; 2015 Apr 29; available at http://www.nih.gov/about/director/04292015_statement_gene_editing_technologies.htm (last accessed 18 May 2015).

41. See note 40, NIH 2015.

42. Reardon S. US Congress moves to block human-embryo editing. Nature 2015 June 25; available at http://www.nature.com/news/us-congress-moves-to-block-human-embryo-editing-1.17858 (last accessed 27 June 2015).

43. The Company of Biologists. Workshops: Transgenerational Epigenetic Inheritance; 2015 Oct 4–7; available at http://workshops.biologists.com/transgenerational-epigenetic-inheritance/ (last accessed 27 June 2015).

44. Excerpt from Wilde O. The Importance of Being Earnest: A Trivial Comedy for Serious People. iBooks; available at https://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewBook?id=4FFC4D4B8607BEFA334DCC3173E9E585.

45. See note 44, Wilde.

46. Brecht B. Life of Galileo. Willett J, trans. London: Methuen; 1994, at scene 14, 108–9.

This article is based on three public interventions I made recently in an attempt to defend a new, valuable, and both life-saving and life-enhancing therapeutic technology. The technology in question is mitochondrial replacement therapy (MRT). In descending chronological order, these interventions were (1) a workshop of the United States Institute of Medicine of the National Academies Board on Health Sciences Policy entitled “Ethical and Social Policy Considerations of Novel Techniques for Prevention of Maternal Transmission of Mitochondrial DNA Diseases” in Washington, DC (see http://www.iom.edu/Activities/Research/MitoEthics/2015-MAR-31.aspx); (2) a presentation in the United Kingdom Parliament, under the auspices of the Progress Educational Trust, on Monday, February 2, 2015 (on the eve of the historic debate and vote in the U.K. Parliament that gave the go-ahead for mitochondrial transfer); and (3) an article published in the Guardian newspaper in 2012 shortly after the U.K. Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority announced a public consultation on mitochondrial DNA transfer.

This section provides reactions to current and emerging issues in bioethics.

Germline Modification and the Burden of Human Existence

  • JOHN HARRIS

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