Survey Revealing Public Views on Gene Editing Published in Nature

November 10, 2017

Advances in biomedicine offer ill and disabled people hope and options like never before but, with that, comes controversy. Gene editing allows for specific changes to the DNA of a cell or organism and some critics label it “playing God.” CEU's Center for Ethics and Law in Biomedicine (CELAB) was one of 18 European centers that participated in the three-year, EU-funded Neuro-Enhancement: Responsible Research and Innovation (NERRI) project that posed questions like: is human improvement unlimited? Can we and, more importantly, how can we employ technological innovation to better ourselves? And how imminent is the appearance of the man-machine?

The science journal Nature published the results of CEU Professor Judit Sandor and Marton Varju's extensive public survey on attitudes toward gene editing. The survey involved 1,000 participants from 11 countries, including Hungary, Austria, Germany and the U.S. Sandor and Varju found that people generally support gene editing for treatment of an illness or disease rather than for enhancement. “Similarly, there is greater support across all countries for intervention on adults than prenatals.”

The additional comments from survey participants offer insight into why people support or do not support gene editing.

“For adult therapy, 75 percent of the comments were positive evaluations of gene editing technology. In order of frequency, these comments related to the following: it led to 'improvements to quality of life'; it would enable 'curing dementia'; and the 'benefits outweighing the risks,'” the study reports. “For prenatal therapy the proportion of support for gene editing declines to 60 percent. Positive comments for this type of therapy were the same as for ‘adult therapy,’ but included additional comments, such as 'it is natural for parents to want the best for their children.' Gene editing for adult enhancement achieves only 26 percent positive comments. On the negative side, people mention there is 'no need; being normal or average is ok,' and that there might be 'risks and unknown consequences.' Only 11 percent of comments on prenatal enhancement are positive.”

To read the full Nature article, click here.