Society for Medical Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
In late 2018, a Chinese scientist shocked the scientific, bioethics and broader communities by announcing the birth of twin babies, whose he claimed to have used the CRISPR-Cas9 technique to alter their genomes as early embryos. This announcement marked a turning point in discussions around the use of gene editing technologies in human reproduction, which, until that announcement, had been discussed in terms of a potential technology, not yet realizable yet one which required ongoing ethical and legislative debate. Immediately, bioethical and moral debates on gene editing shifted, from the demarcation of a bright line that should not be crossed to an ethical acceptance of its conditional permissibility. In this paper, I consider the potentialities of gene editing both as a technology which is hurtling towards adoption and implementation, and as a reproductive biotechnology that will result in potential people – who themselves will have reproductive potential. In considering these different potentialities, I draw upon interviews with Australian scientists, regulators, individuals and families affected by heritable disease to consider contemporary developments in CRISPR-Cas9 and mitochondrial replacement therapy. I discuss how promissory rhetoric and scientific recklessness influences the development of a thoughtful consciousness around the value - and conversely the harms - of scientific innovations whose effects may not be felt for many generations yet.