How deeply can geneticists reach into human biology and change what it means to be human? How deeply should they? A new method in genetics has attracted an immense amount of attention in the scientific literature – and venture capital, too, for that matter. With a biochemical complex called CRISPR/CAS9, researchers are able to make modifications in the DNA of organisms of all kinds, including humans. The precision and the relative ease of this procedure are unprecedented, which is why the journal Science named CRISPR/CAS9 the “breakthrough of the year” of 2015. While not yet in clinical use, the method is credited with a bright future in therapeutic contexts, but even in strictly commercial, non-medical uses such as enhancing the capabilities of a healthy human person. For ethicists, this raises a wide range of questions about both the opportunities and the limits of legitimate human interventions in the genome. It is these questions that this blog is all about.
My name is Alexander Massmann. The contributions to this blog are growing out of my research at the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion in Cambridge, UK, where I work on the topic “human genome modification and human dignity”. My own background is in theology and theological ethics. I hold a Ph.D. from Heidelberg University, Germany, for a book dealing with the interaction of doctrine and ethics in the 20th century theologian Karl Barth. A postdoctoral research project engages in the dialogue between evolutionary biology and the Christian doctrine of creation. The contributions to this blog do not necessarily reflect the opinions held by the staff of the Faraday Institute, although my own reflection certainly engages and draws on discussions at the Faraday Institute.