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The moral argument for heritable genome editing requires an inappropriately deterministic view of genetics
  1. Rachel Horton,
  2. Anneke M Lucassen
  1. Department of Clinical Ethics and Law, Faculty of Medicine, University of Southampton, Southampton, UK
  1. Correspondence to Professor Anneke M Lucassen, Department of Clinical Ethics and Law, Faculty of Medicine, University of Southampton, Southampton so165ya, UK; a.m.lucassen{at}


Gyngell and colleagues consider that the recent Nuffield Council report does not go far enough: heritable genome editing (HGE) is not just justifiable in a few rare cases; instead, there is a moral imperative to undertake it. We agree that there is a moral argument for this, but in the real world it is mitigated by the fact that it is not usually possible to ensure a better life. We suggest that a moral imperative for HGE can currently only be concluded if one first buys into an overly deterministic view of a genome sequence, and the role of variation within in it, in the aetiology of the disease: most diseases cannot simply be attributed to specific genetic variants that we could edit away. Multiple, poorly understood genetic and environmental factors interact to influence the expression of diseases with a genetic component, even well understood ‘monogenic’ disorders. Population-level genome analyses are now demonstrating that many genetic ’mutations' are much less predictive than previously thought 1. Furthermore, HGE might introduce new risks just as it reduces old ones; or remove protections not yet clearly delineated.

  • ethics

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  • Contributors Both authors wrote and revised this commentary.

  • Funding AML’s work is supported by funding from a Wellcome Trust collaborative award 208053/Z/17/Z.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally 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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