Will CRISPR Germline Engineering Close the Door to an Open Future?

  • Rachel L. Mintz
  • John D. Loike
  • Ruth L. Fischbach
Original Paper


The bioethical principle of autonomy is problematic regarding the future of the embryo who lacks the ability to self-advocate but will develop this defining human capacity in time. Recent experiments explore the use of clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR)/Cas9 for germline engineering in the embryo, which alters future generations. The embryo’s inability to express an autonomous decision is an obvious bioethical challenge of germline engineering. The philosopher Joel Feinberg acknowledged that autonomy is developing in children. He advocated that to reserve this future autonomy, parents should be guided to make ethical decisions that provide children with open futures. Here, Feinberg’s 1980 open future theory is extended to the human embryo in the context of CRISPR germline engineering. Although the embryo does not possess the autonomous decision-making capacity at the time of germline engineering, the parental decision to permanently change the unique genetic fabric of the embryo and subsequent generations disregards future autonomy. Therefore, germline engineering in many instances is objectionable considering Feinberg’s open future theory.


CRISPR Germline engineering Human embryo Autonomy Paternalism Joel Feinberg Open future Human dignity 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

All authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rachel L. Mintz
    • 1
  • John D. Loike
    • 2
    • 3
  • Ruth L. Fischbach
    • 4
    • 5
  1. 1.Department of Biomedical Engineering, Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied ScienceColumbia UniversityNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Department of PathologyColumbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and SurgeonsNew YorkUSA
  3. 3.Department of Biology, Lander College of Arts and SciencesTouro CollegeBrooklynUSA
  4. 4.Department of PsychiatryColumbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and SurgeonsNew YorkUSA
  5. 5.Department of Sociomedical SciencesColumbia University Mailman School of Public HealthNew YorkUSA

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