Setting ethical limits on human gene editing after the fall of the somatic/germline barrier

June, 2021


The ethical debate about what is now called human gene editing (HGE) has gone on for more than 50 y. For nearly that entire time, there has been consensus that a moral divide exists between somatic and germline HGE. Conceptualizing this divide as a barrier on a slippery slope, in this paper, I first describe the slope, what makes it slippery, and describe strong barriers that arrest the slippage down to the dystopian bottom of pervasive eugenic enhancement. I then show how the somatic/germline barrier in the debate has been weakened to the level of ineffectiveness, with no replacement below. I examine a number of possible barriers on the slope below the somatic/germline barrier, most of which lack sufficient strength. With the exception of the minority of people in the HGE debate who see the eugenic society as utopia, the majority will need a barrier on the slope to stop the slide to dystopia.

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