Call for a Global Observatory for Gene Editing


Dear Friends and Colleagues

Call for a Global Observatory for Gene Editing

The gene-editing tool CRISPR–Cas9 was used in 2017 to correct a mutation in viable human embryos, one of countless applications to alter plants, animals and humans. Over the past three years, leading scientists have called for global deliberation on the possible effects of gene editing on the human future, but discussions have been split between technical issues and social impacts.

An article in the journal Nature calls for an international network of scholars and organizations to support a new kind of conversation. In April 2017, the authors gathered three dozen social scientists, ethicists, religious thinkers, legal scholars, scientists and representatives of national and international ethics bodies at Harvard University to discuss how to go about this.

As a result of that endeavor, to break out of this bifurcation between the ‘science’ and the ‘ethics’, they recommend an entirely new type of infrastructure to promote a richer, more complex conversation that invites multiple viewpoints. They call for the establishment of a global observatory for gene editing, as a crucial step to determining how the potential of science can be better steered by the values and priorities of society. This international network of scholars and organizations would be dedicated to gathering information from dispersed sources, bringing to the fore perspectives that are often overlooked, and promoting exchange across disciplinary and cultural divides. If successful, the proposed observatory would alter the way problems are framed and expand the idea of a “broad societal consensus”.

The global observatory would fulfil three functions:

  1. It would serve as a clearing house to consolidate and make universally accessible the global range of ethical and policy responses to genome editing and related technologies.
  2. The observatory would enable the tracking and analysis of significant conceptual developments, tensions and emerging areas of consensus around gene editing. It would broaden the focus beyond the technical pros and cons of gene editing to a richer range of questions and concerns that tend to be overlooked.
  3. The observatory would serve as a vehicle for convening periodic meetings, and seeding international discussion informed by insights drawn from data collection and analysis.

The full article can be accessed at

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