pp 1–11 | Cite as

Editing the Gene Editing Debate: Reassessing the Normative Discussions on Emerging Genetic Technologies

  • Oliver FeeneyEmail author
Original Research Paper


The revolutionary potential of the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technique has created a resurgence in enthusiasm and concern in genetic research perhaps not seen since the mapping of the human genome at the turn of the century. Some such concerns and anxieties revolve around crossing lines between somatic and germline interventions as well as treatment and enhancement applications. Underpinning these concerns, there are familiar concepts of safety, unintended consequences and damage to genetic identity and the creation of designer children through pursuing human enhancement and eugenics. In the policy realm, these morally laden distinctions and anxieties are emerging as the basis for making important and applied measures to respond to the fast-evolving scientific developments. This paper argues that the dominant normative framing for such responses is insufficient for this task. This paper illustrates this insufficiency as arising from a continued reliance on misleading genetic essentialist assumptions that generate groundless speculation and over-reactionary normative responses. This phenomenon is explicit with regard to prospective human (germ line) genetic enhancements. While many normative theorists and state-of-the-art reports continue to gesture toward the influence of environmental and social influences on a person and their traits and capacities, this recognition does not extend to the substance of the arguments themselves which tend to revert to the debunked genetic determinist framework. Given the above, this paper argues that there is a pressing need for a more central role for sociological input into particular aspects of this “enhancement myth” in order to give added weight, detail and substance to these environmental influences and influence from social structures.


CRISPR Gene-editing Genetic determinism ELSI Ethics Philosophy Sociology Human enhancement 



I wish to thank Solveig Lena Hansen and Maurizio Balistreri for the incredible work in getting this valuable special issue together. I also wish to thank Christopher Coenen, the leading editor of NanoEthics, for his support. This paper was presented at the 2017 International Conference “What’s next?!” Hype and Hope from Human Reproductive Cloning to Genome Editing, hosted by the University of Turin, Italy (July 6–7, 2017) organised by Solveig Lena Hansen and Maurizio Balistreri. The paper was also presented at the ‘Genome editing: biomedical and ethical perspectives’ International Conference jointly organised by The Center for the Study of Bioethics, The NYU School of Medicine and the Hastings Center, hosted by the Center for the Study of Bioethics, Belgrade, Serbia (August 20–12, 2017) and at the 2017 CHIP ME Symposium: Making the cut? Scientific possibilities and ELSI challenges in gene-editing, hosted by the Fondazione Bruno Kessler, Trento, Italy (March 9–10, 2017). I wish to thank both organisers and participants in these events for their comments and feedback. I also wish to thank the referees for their valuable comments and suggestions. This article is based upon work from COST Action IS1303 “Citizen’s Health through public-private Initiatives: Public health, Market and Ethical perspectives,” supported by COST (European Cooperation in Science and Technology) (


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Nursing and Midwifery, University College Cork & Centre of Bioethical Research and AnalysisNational University of Ireland (Galway)GalwayIreland

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