The Problem of the Neurodegenerative Germline: An Ethical Reconsideration in Light of Genetic Engineering Developments
Katherine A. Banner
In this thesis I strive to answer the question, "Is it ethically justifiable to edit out the mutant Alzheimer's gene, and therefore the germline of, a human embryo with the CRISPR-Cas9 system?" There are many risks of the CRISPR-Cas9 technology, including the off-target effects of mosaicism, unintended base changes, and double-stranded breaks. Along with this, using the CRISPR-Cas9 system on the germline of a human embryo violates the two major theories of bioethics as well as the principles of
... medical ethics. There is also a large public and religious fear about the clinical use of this technology. Through the analysis of the science behind CRISPR-Cas9, the scientific benefits and risks of CRISPR-Cas9, and the medical ethics of its clinical use, I determined that it is not ethically justifiable to use CRISPR-Cas9 in its current state to edit the germline of a human embryo in order to remove Alzheimer's disease. I also determined that it is not ethically justifiable to use CRISPR-Cas9 in a future, more accurate state unless multiple limitations and regulations on the technology are set. I would first like to thank my thesis advisor, Dr. Joy Penticuff, for meeting with me so often and helping me develop, research, and edit my thesis. Without you, I would not have been able to complete this process in the manner that I wanted, and your help throughout the entire process is unmeasurable. I would also like to thank my second reader, Dr. Nancy Moran, for all of your help and input. Together, both Dr. Penticuff and Dr. Moran helped me formulate my thesis into exactly what I wanted it to be. I would also like to thank both my parents who were constantly encouraging me to pursue a topic I loved and research and write the best I could. Thank you for all of the emails with articles relating to my topic and the constant uplifting words throughout the process. I would not have been able to make it through this year without you. Lastly, I would like to thank Plan II for allowing me to pursue an opportunity to research and write a thesis on a topic I really love and am interested in. Not only this, but this topic was introduced to me through Plan II seminars. All of the Plan II staff has been beyond helpful, easy to communicate with, and so encouraging through the whole year and thesis process. Thank you again for everything you have provided me with through my four years of education here at UT Austin. 9 There are multiple other ethical considerations that must be taken into account when considering the human application of genetic manipulation technology besides the unintended consequences and changing a germline. When using this technology as a human treatment, there are many religious aspects to take into account, as well as geographic, social, and financial aspects. In this thesis, I will attempt to determine whether or not it is ethically justifiable to use the CRISPR-Cas9 genetic engineering technology to edit the genetic makeup of a human embryo, and more specifically to modify the genetic makeup of the embryo's germline. The reason for this focus is because at this time, the large majority of research has been directed towards germline modification rather than somatic cell modification in human embryos. This means that my analysis of the use of the CRISPR-Cas9 genetic engineering technology deals with germline modification, which affects all future generations from the embryo upon which CRISPR-Cas9 has been applied. In order to come to a conclusion to this argument, I will analyze the scientific background of the genetic engineering technology along with any other science that relates to its clinical use, the scientific benefits and risks of the technology, and the bioethical arguments for and against the use of the CRISPR-Cas9 system on human embryos.