As you may know, I’ve had the great honor of serving as a member of the World Health Organization expert advisory committee on human genome editing, created by WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in the aftermath of the shocking 2018 news that the first genome edited “CRISPR babies” had been born in China. After over two years of hard work in close collaboration with our WHO colleagues, our committee of 18 experts from around the world today released our report, which I hope you will read. The report has three components, all linked here: our position paper, our recommendations, and our governance framework.
It’s hard, in my view, to overstate the implications of this turning-point in the history of our species and, ultimately, for life on earth.
As we further develop our ability to read, write, and hack the code of life, our new age of genetically engineered humans has already begun. The question for all of us is whether we can deploy these god-like powers wisely. If we want these new capabilities to be used to enhance our health and well-being rather than undermine them, now is the time to build the foundations for that future.
Recognizing that existing national and global systems for governing and regulating human genome editing are inadequate, our report calls for a series of steps at the local, national, and international levels designed to help provide stronger and more effective governance and oversight of this life-changing set of technologies.
While the report recognizes that scientists, governments, and international organizations have critically important roles to play in the governance of human genome editing, it also calls for broad public education, empowerment, and engagement as a cornerstone of this process. Because these technologies touch the core of what it means to be human, decisions about how best to use them must be everyone’s business.
Because as transformative as new genetic technologies may already be, we are still only in the earliest days of this revolution that will ultimately change the way we think about healthcare, health, and life. If we can build effective frameworks to help optimize the benefits of and minimize any potential harms associated with these powerful capabilities, the technologies can help us live healthier lives in greater harmony with the world around us. That’s a big “if,” which is why it’s up to all of us to do our best to make that better future possible.