Biohackers are using CRISPR technology to edit their own genomes. Is there a genome editing right or should CRISPR tools be controlled substances?

The Facts

Josiah Zayner, recently reported, that he attempted to edit his own genome using the CRISPR. This story was reported in a number of outlets including Outside Magazine and Buzzfeed.

This self-experimentation is questionable on many levels. Using genome editing to increase muscle mass is a dubious goal. It’s not clear that the operation was successful. All we know is that he did not make himself sick.

We also know that Zayner is the CEO of The Odin, a company who develops and sells kits for amateurs genetic engineers. So, this self-experimentation may be seen as a great marketing stunt.

Is there a Genome Editing Right?

That being said, this experiment raises a more fundamental question. Should we have the right to edit our own genome?

We can envision a time where genome editing becomes easy enough to enable many people to edit their genome. This could be performed with performance enhancement goals. It could also be used by a patient to attempt to cure a chronic disease.

One could argue that biohackers may be more creative and less risk-averse than the pharmaceutical industry. Allowing biohackers to edit their own genome may lead to promising directions. Even if the probability of a miracle cure is minuscule, on which basis should we prevent someone from giving it a shot if his or her life is at stake?

Off-target effects, reactions to the vector, and a thousand of other things that can go wrong may be reasons to prevent this kind of self-experimentation because they can be potentially harmful. The remote possibility that a successful experimentation may result in transmissible genetic modifications is another good reason to discourage this type of biological adventures.

What do you think? Do you think that editing one’s own genome is a right? Or do you think that CRISPR reagents and kits should be labeled as controlled substances?

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