Time to start intervening in the human germline? A utilitarian perspective

Kevin Smith*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
338 Downloads (Pure)


Focusing on present-day possibilities raised by existing technology, I consider the normative aspects of genetically modifying the human germline from a utilitarian standpoint. With reference to a hypothetical case, I examine the probable consequences of permitting a well-conceived attempt to correct a disease-associated gene in the human germline using current CRISPR gene-editing technology. I consider inter alia the likely effects on utility of creating healthy new lives, of discouraging adoption, and of kickstarting a revolution in human germline genetic modification (HGGM). I reject various objections to HGGM, including claims that the risks of genetic harm outweigh the likely benefits. From this utilitarian analysis, I conclude that strong grounds exist to support intervening in the human germline using current technology. Delay in commencing such work will impose a utility cost, because the longer we wait until commencing the HGGM revolution and moving towards a world of increased utility, the greater will be the quantity of suffering accrued meantime through genetically influenced disease. Nevertheless, considering residual safety concerns and the negative publicity engendered by an ethically problematic recent (2018) first attempt at HGGM, it seems prudent-and ultimately generative of the greatest amount of utility-to delay implementing HGGM for a modest period of time, in the order of 1-2 years.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)90-104
Number of pages15
Issue number1
Early online date15 Nov 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2020


  • Genetic engineering
  • Genetic modification
  • Germline modification
  • Utilitarianism


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