School of Law

Professor Richard Ashcroft discusses the ethical concerns facing the field of genome editing in a podcast for the Galton Institute

28 November 2018

The podcast, which was recorded at the Galton Institute Conference on genome editing at the Royal Society in London, looked at the most pressing ethical concerns facing the field of genome editing in human reproduction.

Richard Ashcroft, Professor of Bioethics at Queen Mary University of London, who’s been working in the field of ethics and medical science for 25 years, lent his academic expertise to outline some of the key issues and questions around this topic.

Professor Ashcroft pointed to single gene disorders like Huntington’s disease, cystic fibrosis and sickle cell anemia as obvious reasons why people would agree to a genetic fix. However, he also noted that people are interested in genome editing for different reasons, as for example for intelligence enhancement.

He said: “The problem of how we distinguish between a disease and something that’s not a disease that you can still do medical/biological alterations to, is a really tricky one.

“The NHS has tried to distinguish, in the field of plastic surgery, between therapeutic surgeries and cosmetic surgeries. There’s a lot in the bioethics literature about the difference between a treatment and enhancement, and it’s quite an unstable distinction.”

Richard Ashcroft was also involved as a member of the group, working on the Nuffield Final Report on Genome Editing and Human Reproduction. The report aims to offer a comprehensive account of what’s currently being done in the science and articulate some standard ethical principles.

Listen to the whole podcast by clicking here.