Nature beyond control: how expectations should inform decisions about human germline engineering
In the ongoing discussion about the risks of reproductive human germline modification, scant attention has been paid to whether it could be reconciled with theories of psychological well-being. Even if safety and feasibility challenges could be overcome and germline engineering technology could be implemented in ways that avoid exacerbating social inequality, we would still have to question whether germline modification would promote circumstances that lead to better psychological experiences for parents, society, and the genetically edited person. This paper posits that germline engineering would produce expectations of being able to control the manifestation of an individual’s characteristics, which will inevitably be upset by our limited understanding of how genes interact with each other and with the environment. Drawing on self-discrepancy and relative deprivation theories, it is suggested that both editing and being edited could lead to unmet expectations and thus negative emotional states that would offset benefits of successful intended genetic changes.
KeywordsGermline engineering Expectations Control CRISPR Ethics Self-discrepancy theory Relative deprivation theory
The authors would like to thank Marcy Darnovsky of the Center for Genetics and Society and Sheldon Krimsky for their thoughtful feedback on drafts.
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