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Goldilocks and the two principles. A response to Gyngell et al
  1. Peter Mills
  1. Correspondence to Dr Peter Mills, Nuffield Council on Bioethics, London WC1B 3JS, UK; pmills{at}

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In their paper Chris Gyngell, Hilary Bowman-Smart and Julian Savulescu offer a careful analysis of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics report, Genome Editing and Human Reproduction: social and ethical issues but they challenge us to go further still.i I want to suggest that, although their analysis is clear and accurate, its rather ‘molecular’ approach neglects the overall arc and orientation of the report. Furthermore, their conclusions about prospective parents’ reproductive obligations lack sensitivity to the proper evaluative context and offer littlein the way of policy prescriptions.

A neglected aspect of the report is the dialectical relation of the three sets of considerations through which it advances: those relating to the individuals directly involved, the wider society in which they live, and the future of human being in general. In particular, Gyngell et al.’s analysis does not attend to how the second principle advanced in the report (that of solidarity and social justice) interacts with the first (that of the welfare of the future person). It also ignores an important implication of the refusal of a final synthesis (which would be that heritable genome editing – HGE – is categorically at odds with the interests of humanity), namely, to inaugurate a continual process of reflection between the first two sets of considerations. And it therefore inevitably glosses over practical questions of the mode and venue for this reflection.

Something that has not been well understood in the reception …

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  • i Gyngell C,1 Bowman-Smart H and Savulescu J (2019) available at:

  • ii In particular, they contrast the Nuffield report with the principles advanced by the US National Academies, which they see (rightly, in my view) as being capable of licensing contradictory states of affairs; see: National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (2017)2. It is ironic, then, the NAS report envisions moral discourse primarily in the mode of an institutional review board. (For my response this, see:

  • iii This inclusive process may offer a way of collectively examining ‘social harms’ and broaching ‘collective action problems’, for which Gyngell et al 1 propose broadening the second Nuffield principle.

  • Contributors PM is the sole author of this work.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Correction notice This article has been amended since it was first published online. This article has been changed from a Response to a Commentary article.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

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