UK Citizens' Jury on Genome Editing
Genome editing is a relatively new technique which gives scientists the ability to make highly targeted changes to DNA in plants, animals and humans. It has the potential to be inherited by future generations of the organism which initially had its genome edited. The technology holds out the promise of a cure for particularly debilitating diseases, of improved harvests and animal welfare, but it also raises the possibility of designer babies and will have impacts on farming practices and animal husbandry. As a result, it raises profound questions about how the technology should be applied, how it might contribute to shared visions of the future and critically who should decide when it should be used and when not.
The UK is one of the world's leading scientific centres. As a result, involving the UK public in answering these questions could have an important impact on the regulatory environment here in the UK. However, as events in 2018 showed, when the Chinese scientist Dr He Jiankui used the technique to give a pair of twin girls immunity against HIV, to near universal condemnation, this is not an issue which can be solved at national level.
What will happen in the UK
Society and Ethics Research is partnering with Involve UK and Keele University to run the Citizens’ Jury on genome editing in the UK. This jury is part of the broader process to run a Global Citizens’ Assembly on the same topic. Anna Middleton, head of Society and Ethics Research, says “I am incredibly excited to be partnering with Involve and the University of Keele to deliver the UK’s citizens jury for the Global Citizens’ Assembly. It is paramount that public audiences across the world have a voice in policy on the future of genome editing technologies so that the technology is able to serve society in ways that are acceptable”
The three UK partners are part of a global consortium of organisations led by the Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance at the University of Canberra which aims to run a global Citizens' Assembly on genome editing. The UK Jury, along with similar deliberative processes across the world, will feed into this global assembly. Projects are already confirmed in the US, Australia and China. Projects in Belgium, France, Germany, Brazil and South Africa are also well advanced.
The UK Citizens' Jury is currently planned for the first half of 2021. Given the current pandemic, our aim is to hold this online and fully integrating synchronous and asynchronous online platforms to support jurors to work together on their recommendations. The focus of the UK jury will be human health.
“Genome editing raises many profound moral and ethical questions. It is therefore critical that publics around the world are fully involved in the debate about whether, when and how the technology should be deployed. The Global Citizens’ Assembly is an important step to supporting the development of this global democratic debate. We’re delighted to be working with Wellcome Genome Campus and Keele University on the UK citizens’s jury component of this important initiative.”
-Simon Burall, Involve, project partner
“Deliberative democracy is one of the fastest-moving, most exciting areas of political theory research already - there is immense interest at the moment across academia, civil society, and governments in deliberative innovations such as citizens' juries. Creating a deliberative space like this across the entire globe, on a topic on which such global reach is crucial, is unprecedented. We will be able to see what deliberation can do in an area as multifaceted and contested as genome editing. I am excited to contribute to this global consortium facilitating productive dialogue between very diverse people and societies. This will be hugely rewarding research, with a real impact on the policy discussion. The first step on this exciting journey is our regional case study here in the UK, which we’re designing from the start to closely tie in with the Australian jury and all the other regional case studies.”
-Dr Marit Hammond, Keele University, project partner