3 Bioethical Challenges Facing Genomics Within the Decades to Come

For decades, the field of genomics has grappled with increasingly complex questions of ethics. When the great philosophizers speculated on the human condition thousands of years ago, they almost certainly did so without ever imagining we’d one day have the ability to manipulate our own genetic code.

What are the biggest bioethical challenges in genomics today, and more importantly, for the decades to come? The path we lay over the next few years could set the stage for mankind’s acceptance of – or skepticism in – the science.


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  1. Is germline gene editing one step too far?

    Since the 1980s, one of the biggest ethical dilemmas within the field of gene editing was whether or not it was ethical to perform the practice at the germline (sperm and egg) phase of development. The academic community still disagrees strongly on whether or not germline gene editing is moral, particularly as the practices of stem cell research and tissue engineering come into their own. Is it ethical to bestow an early embryo with functions it does not have “by nature?” What is the morality of recoding the genomes of even simple organisms that separate them within their natural environment? The line is anywhere but clear, but as new developments accelerate the science of genomics every day, ethicists and researchers must form a more cohesive agreement regarding acceptable practice.

  2. Should our genetic data be for sale?

    The rise of direct-to-consumer DNA testing over the past decade has opened a Pandora’s Box of privacy concerns. Many of the largest commercial genetic testing companies sell customers’ data to other companies and research facilities. But should consumer-facing genomics companies be allowed to charge for testing services if they actually make money selling genetic data? The average individual likely does not understand the full value of their genetic information. Genetic data can be used in court, it can be stolen for profit, and most importantly, it can be used to propel the science of precision medicine. Today there are virtually no consumer protections in place regarding the transfer and use of genetic data, but years to come will likely see a new wave of regulations designed to protect the genetic interests of every individual.

  3. Creating an equal playing field within genetics.

    The science of personalized medicine is stratified. Genetically-based healthcare is still in its infancy and thus patients with more resources are more likely to able to afford to travel, pay for testing, and take on the associated risks of trial medications. Should the wealthy have access to better medicine? Likewise, as precision medicine evolves, diseases and conditions are more fully understood. Should a patient who has a host of genetic markers for a certain disease face higher insurance premiums or be denied treatment based on voluntary lifestyle factors? The question becomes how to keep the science of genomics and the practice of genetic counseling equal so patients aren’t penalized for lack of means…or their intrinsic genetic code.

 

 

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