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Moral reasons to edit the human genome: picking up from the Nuffield report
  1. Christopher Gyngell1,2,
  2. Hilary Bowman-Smart2,
  3. Julian Savulescu2,3
  1. 1 Department of Paediatrics, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  2. 2 Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  3. 3 Faculty of Philosophy, Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, Oxford, UK
  1. Correspondence to Professor Julian Savulescu, Faculty of Philosophy, The Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, Oxford OX1 1PT, UK; julian.savulescu{at}


In July 2018, the Nuffield Council of Bioethics released its long-awaited report on heritable genome editing (HGE). The Nuffield report was notable for finding that HGE could be morally permissible, even in cases of human enhancement. In this paper, we summarise the findings of the Nuffield Council report, critically examine the guiding principles they endorse and suggest ways in which the guiding principles could be strengthened. While we support the approach taken by the Nuffield Council, we argue that detailed consideration of the moral implications of genome editing yields much stronger conclusions than they draw. Rather than being merely ‘morally permissible’, many instances of genome editing will be moral imperatives.

  • genetic engineering
  • autonomy
  • informed consent
  • distributive justice
  • enhancement

This is an open access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Unported (CC BY 4.0) license, which permits others to copy, redistribute, remix, transform and build upon this work for any purpose, provided the original work is properly cited, a link to the licence is given, and indication of whether changes were made. See:

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  • Contributors Dr CG conducted the initial research, helped drafted the initial manuscript, made revisions and prepared the manuscript for submission. HBS researched and summarised the Nuffield Council report and other institutional statements, and edited the manuscript. Professor JS conceptualised the project, helped draft the initial manuscript, provided feedback on drafts and made revisions to the manuscript. All authors approved the final manuscript as submitted and agree to be accountable for all aspects of the work.

  • Funding CG, HBS and JS, through their involvement with the Murdoch, received funding from the Victorian State Government through the Operational Infrastructure Support (OIS) Programme.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement Not applicable.

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