Jan. 12, 2021

FIVM Series presents: Genetically modifying the human germline

Ethical and governance challenges
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FIVM Series

CRISPR/Cas9 was discovered in 2012, was the 2015 Science breakthrough of the year, and in 2020 its developers were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. This is a fast-moving technology, already successfully implemented in plants and animals, and trialed in human somatic cells. In 2018, the world was shocked to learn about the birth of the world’s first genetically edited babies.

On Friday, January 15, Dr. Vardit Ravitsky will review the key bioethical arguments presented in the literature regarding germline gene editing. Dr. Ravitsky will discuss the great hopes associated with this technology in terms of treatment and even eradication of disease, as well as concerns associated with a technology that allows the transmission of genetic modification to future generations.

Dr. Vardit Ravitsky

Dr. Vardit Ravitsky

Dr. Ravitsky’s talk will also focus on issues including the technology’s possible impact on human evolution; the safety and well-being of children created from genetically edited gametes or embryos; ethical issues associated with ensuring long-term follow up of such children; the potential use of gene editing to enhance human traits rather than prevent disease; and the justice implications of pushing forward an expensive technology that would only be accessible, at least at first, to privileged users. She will also review key policy recommendations made in past years by international and national expert bodies.

Dr. Vardit Ravitsky is a professor at the Bioethics Program, School of Public Health, at the University of Montreal. She is president of the International Association of Bioethics and the director of Ethics and Health at the Center for Research on Ethics. Dr. Ravitsky is a 2020 Trudeau Foundation Fellow and Chair of the Foundation’s COVID-19 Impact Committee, as well as Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences. She is a member of the Standing Committee on Ethics of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and of the Institute Advisory Board of CIHR’s Institute of Genetics. She is also a member of the National Human Genome Research Institute’s (NHGRI) Genomics & Society Working Group.

Dr. Ravitsky's research focuses on the ethics of genomics and reproduction and is funded by Canada’s leading funding agencies. She has published over 160 articles and commentaries on bioethical issues.