The CRISPR Journal
Volume 3, Issue 1 / February 2020
Ethical Considerations in Therapeutic Clinical Trials Involving Novel Human Germline-Editing Technology
Carolyn Brokowski and Mazhar Adli
Published Online:17 February 2020
Much of the international community opposes editing the human germline. Yet, given enough experience to become better acquainted with strengths and limitations, prominent international figures are cautiously optimistic about using CRISPR-like novel technologies for clinical applications. Not only might such applications be morally (ethically) permissible, but clinical trials for therapeutic aims could be necessary. Here, we assess critical dimensions of early-phase trials deploying germline-editing technologies for “bench-to-bedside” translation. While assuming no overarching position favoring or opposing such research, our discussion primarily focuses on normative considerations. First, we evaluate the imperative of conducting trials to produce reliable, reproducible knowledge and advancement, if possible, for human diseases that are incurable and/or whose treatments are deficient. Second, we address complexities in assessing risk and potential-benefit profiles. Third, we review the moral foundations of trial participation through well-established and accepted bioethical principles: autonomy, nonmaleficence, beneficence, and distributive justice. Finally, we raise critical questions about the scope of regulatory authority and investigator and funder accountability for these applications that could have everlasting impacts.