Governing Heritable Human Genome Editing: A Textual History and a Proposal for the Future

The CRISPR Journal
Volume 4, Issue 4 / August 2021


Perspective Open Access
Governing Heritable Human Genome Editing: A Textual History and a Proposal for the Future
LeRoy Walters, Robert M. Cook-Deegan, and Eli Y. Adashi
Published Online:16 August 2021
Heritable human genome editing (HHGE) has become a topic of intense public interest, especially since 2015. In the early 1980s, a related topic—human genetic engineering—was the subject of sustained public discussion. There was particular concern about germline genetic intervention. During the 1980s debate, an advisory committee to the Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH)—the Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee (RAC)—agreed to provide initial public review of proposals for deliberate introduction of DNA into human beings. In 1984 and 1985, the RAC developed guidelines for research involving DNA transfer into patients. The committee also commented on the possibility of deliberately altering the human germline. We track the textual changes over time in the RAC’s response to the possibility of germline genetic intervention in humans. In 2019, the NIH RAC was abolished. New techniques for genome editing, including CRISPR-based techniques, make both somatic and germline alterations much more feasible. These novel capabilities have again raised questions about oversight. We propose the creation of a new structure for the public oversight of proposals to perform HHGE. In parallel with a technical review by a regulatory agency, such proposals should also be publicly evaluated by a presidentially appointed Bioethics Advisory Commission.