Hurlbut Contributes to International Debate over Human Gene Editing

In recent months, CBS center faculty affiliate Ben Hurlbut has contributed to an emerging, international debate about human applications of CRISPR/Cas9—a new technique of genetic engineering or “gene editing.”  If applied to human gametes or embryos, the technology could produce changes to the human germline—genetic alterations that would be passed on to the resulting person’s children and children’s children.

Last November, he spoke about issues of governance at an international symposium convened by the Netherlands Commission on Genetic Modification Dr. Ben HurlbutDr. Ben Hurlbut(COGEM) and the Heath Council of the Netherlands which advise the Dutch government and Parliament.  In December, he was invited to participate in the International Summit on Gene Editing that was jointly convened by the US National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Medicine, the Chinese National Academy, and the Royal Society.  At the Summit, he served as a policy expert and moderator for a session examining issues of public benefit and social justice. 

He also spoke at a parallel National Academies workshop on the place of humanistic education and expertise in STEM fields, specifically in relation to the social, ethical and policy questions around emerging biotechnologies like gene editing.  Hurlbut published a widely-read op-ed in the Guardian with colleagues Sheila Jasanoff at Harvard University and Krishanu Saha University of Wisconsin, Madison as well as a longer commentary in Issues in Science and Technology a National Academies journal on issues related to science and public policy.  He has also published a related article in the Hastings Center Report.   He is co-organizing a workshop on gene editing that will take place at SUNY Buffalo School of Law next fall.

Hurlbut’s joint writing with Jasanoff and Saha grew in part out of a residential fellowship at the Brocher Foundation in Geneva, Switzerland.  Their collaboration is linked to the Bio + Society Collaboratory at Harvard University, of which Hurlbut is co-director.