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Most Americans worried about genome editing, survey finds

01 August 2016

By Anneesa Amjad

Appeared in BioNews 862

A survey has found that a majority of adults in the USA are worried about the potential use of genome-editing technologies to give children a reduced risk of disease.

The survey, carried out by Pew Research Centre, gathered the opinions of 4726 adults in the USA on using new technologies to 'enhance' human capabilities. The respondents were asked about three emerging technologies: in utero genome editing to prevent disease, increasing the mental abilities of healthy individuals via the implantation of a brain chip, and synthetic blood transfusions to increase performance.

Almost 70 percent of respondents said that they were 'very' or 'somewhat' worried about the use of genome-editing technologies to reduce a child's risk of serious disease, with around half indicating they were enthusiastic about such a use – three in ten respondents were both enthusiastic and worried.

Respondents who said they were familiar with genome editing were more likely to want it for their own child, and there was more acceptance of genome editing if people were allowed to choose which diseases would be affected. 

Fifty-four percent of adults surveyed felt that genome editing to prevent serious disease in a baby and give it the average level of health would be appropriate. However, the same amount of people felt that genome editing to make someone healthier than any existing human was crossing a line.

The researchers say this differentiation highlights a general theme in which people tend to be more comfortable with efforts to prevent, treat or cure diseases, but not with efforts to enhance 'normal' species functioning.

'It's pretty clear that thinking about these ideas in connection with helping people with medical issues is different than taking people who are otherwise healthy and enhancing their abilities,' Cary Funk, the lead researcher of the survey, said.

The survey also found that religious people are less likely to support such interventions, and that the more committed to religion someone is, the more likely they are to think that enhancement technologies are meddling with nature and 'playing god'.

As well as religion, gender also affected perceptions about these technologies. Men are more likely to be in favour of genome editing and other technologies, with 54 percent saying that they would use genome editing to reduce their child's risk of disease, compared with 43 percent of women.

However, despite the wariness of perceived enhancements highlighted by the survey, a large proportion of respondents believed that these technologies will be widely available in the near future. Forty-seven percent said they foresee a future where almost all birth defects would be avoided by the genetic modification of embryos. Many respondents also said they had mixed views about current enhancements such as cosmetic surgery.


21 August 2017 - by Dr Rachel Huddart 
A new survey suggests that Americans are becoming more accepting of the use of genome editing in humans, and there is strong support for more public involvement in discussions on the technology...
20 February 2017 - by Dr Rachel Huddart 
An influential advisory group has given cautious support to the idea of making heritable changes to the human genome in order to treat or prevent disease...
03 October 2016 - by Rachel Siden 
Use of genome editing in human reproduction requires 'urgent ethical scrutiny', according to a report published by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics...
26 September 2016 - by Anneesa Amjad 
A scientist in Sweden has become the first to edit genes in healthy human embryos...
12 September 2016 - by Professor Vardit Ravitsky, Professor Bartha Knoppers, Professor Timothy Caulfield, Professor Rosario Isasi, Erika Kleiderman, and Professor Michael Rudnicki 
Gene editing, in particular CRISPR/Cas9 technology, is sweeping the scientific world and has been receiving ample attention from policymakers worldwide. Policy statements and academic papers regarding responsible ways of moving forward with gene editing have already been published...

04 July 2016 - by Simon Hazelwood-Smith 
Paul Knoepfler's TEDx talk covers familiar ground – designer babies, segregation between 'natural' and GM children, unintended side effects, playing god, and eugenics all feature in his dystopian vision of a future involving genetically modified humans...
13 June 2016 - by Rhys Baker 
Over just 30 minutes Fergus Walsh has a lot of ground to cover here without even touching on the ethical debate. Yet, while gene editing may have 'just been made simple', how we respond to these stunning advances is anything but...
01 February 2016 - by Dr Rebecca Dimond 
An author and a science historian host an online discussion on the promise and perils of the 'science of designer babies'...
30 November 2015 - by Dr Silvia Camporesi and Dr Lara Marks 
It is important to engage the public in the debate about genome editing as early as possible, and in a way that is as open as possible, to make sure that all possible voices are included...
12 October 2015 - by Dr Silvia Camporesi and Dr Lara Marks 
The UNESCO International Bioethics Committee has released a statement reaffirming an earlier moratorium called by a group of US scientists on the use of CRISPR/Cas9 in human embryos. We argue that the current framing of the debate in terms of dystopic or imagined futures is too narrow and constrains the boundaries of the debate to germline applications...

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