CRISPR: Risks and Ethical Concern

Medicine is experiencing major changes with disruptive technologies on gene, RNA, and cell therapies. As one of the disruptive technologies for medicine, CRISPR allows mutation correction in the human genome. The CRISPR technology has many functions, including treating diseases. The swiftness of the changes caused by the technology, such as gene modification, allows DNA errors correction with relative ease (Morrison & Stevienna 2). The potential of the technology to eliminate future generations’ terrible diseases and death seems an unquestionable and rewarding endeavor. While the discoveries in genetic engineering have allowed access to new possibilities of treatment using genes and their modification in the genome, the technology exposes the patients to unknown consequences of embryo editing, cautioning researchers to wait on its uses. CRISPR’s rapid development and proposed use present potential ethical concerns.

While the widespread implementation of CRISPR has significant benefits for humans, the significant risks of the technology, such as the ethical concern of its capacity to alter traits leading to social inequity, incapacitation of cells to lose their cancer-fighting ability, and limited efficiency incorrect modification may cause long-lasting negative consensuses even for future generations.Moral decisions, particularly in biomedicine, involve gauging the potential risk-benefit ratio that maximizes the benefit and minimizes the risk. Comprehending the possible consequences, probabilities of each instantiating, and justification for the CRISPR is crucial in navigating ethical decision-making.

A major risk of further development and implementation of CRISPR is the potential threat to society in its future application. Some of the threats include biological damage done to the natural world due to genetically modified organisms, which can damage ecosystems and populations. The ease of editing the human genome could lead to ‘designer babies,’ bioweapons, and super pathogens (Davies 2107). Allowing genetically modified individuals may lead to a new form of social inequality, discrimination, and conflict. Additionally, CRISPR can lead to the gene drive. Since the technology allows the manipulation of genes, which can be incorporated into the genome, these genes are transmittable to other organisms. Once these genes are transferred, they become a part of the cycle and part of the environment. Due to the rapid development of the technology and recent acquisition of patents, there remains a possibility that the scientist misses something or the technology cannot identify changes that have not resulted directly from the human (Brokowski & Mazhar 88). These changes can lead to antibiotic resistance and other mutation forms that would be challenging to control, leading to incurable diseases or other uncontrollable mutations.


An additional potential concern is CRISPR technology’s technical limitations, including limited efficiency of the target editing, incomplete editing, and inaccurate target editing (Brokowski & Mazhar 90). While these issues may rapidly become obsolete with the unprecedented pace of the technology evolution, they can have a macro effect on the population. Additionally, the nature of the modified organisms remains unknown; whether the organism will be influenced indefinitely transferred to future generations. These technical complexities and inaccurate predictions of the modified organism make it challenging, if not impossible, to predict the potential of the technology. Furthermore, even if the edited genome achieves desired functional output, the complex association between genetic information and biological phenotype is challenging to comprehend fully (Davies 2104). Hence, the modified gene biological result is unclear.

Given that biological traits are composed of complex regulatory actions of various genes, it is challenging to adequately alter the whole organism’s function (Morrison & Stevienna 6). Across various biological results, regardless of the health status of an organism, a single gene cannot influence a complex biological characteristic. Indeed, most genetic variants may be pleiotropic and have unrelated effects on various cells and tissues. The severity of their enhancement may vary depending on their genetic background and other genetic variants. Other genetic regulatory factors influence the component and functioning of an organism. (Sandy). To argue that modifying a gene alters the desired phenotype implies a reasonable comprehension of other independent contributing factors. These risks pose ethical concerns in dealing with CRISPR technology.

The first ethical dilemma is the extent CRISPR experimentation is to be allowed for pre-clinical biomedical research, particularly research on the embryo, which might result in unjust, lethal harm. The technology is less than a decade old but demonstrates the unprecedented potential to revolutionize science. CRISPR is applicable for various elements such as viruses, bacteria, and simple model organisms such as mosquitos to larger animals (Gonzalez-Avila et al. 1348). The technology is beneficial through increasing gene modification efficacy, unlike previous genomic techniques, investigating new organisms, creating novel cell lines, and increasing the functionality of key genes (Shinwari et al.105). However, controversy arises when using the technology on human embryos. Notably, the concern is not CRISPR but rather an uncertainty of the embryo status. While some argue for experimentation on embryos after two weeks as ethical, a single entity cannot decide when an embryo precisely attains the status of ‘personhood’ (Brokowski & Mazhar 94). It is necessary to understand the nature of the embryo, its moral rights, and the duties owed. On the other hand, despite the complexities, a decision must be taken since proceeding with the procedure or failure to have consequences. Nonetheless, more restrictions on CRISPR scientific analyses may prevent unjust and lethal harm (Sandy). Even with justified research, the embryo cannot give informed consent during the research, and any experiment could be life-altering, with results extending to future generations.

 The second concern is to what extent CRISPR should be allowed into translational and clinical medicine. So far, the technology has improved immunotherapy, drug target identification, artificial intelligence, and disease-gene modification (Brokowski & Mazhar 95). Besides, the technology provides the extensive potential to combat HIV, hemophilia, sickle cell, and cancer, among other conditions. However, the acquisition of such knowledge and treatment has its risk. For instance, experimentation involving heritable germline editing presents additional risks since it involves potential descendants of the research participants. It is necessary to compare the influence of CRISPR and another common testing mechanism. For example, chemotherapies have mutagenic properties such as alkylating agents, antimetabolites, and fluorouracil (Rath 108).

Exposure to these agents increases genetic mutation and the passing of these undesired alterations to descendants. Here CRISPR technology influence needs to be compared with the daily experience of healthy individuals and determine with confidence the risks (Davies 2105). Such action is challenging because CRISPR is new without robust, reliable data. Besides, using the technology of germline editing might cause eugenics, whose supporters believed in controlling breeding by increasing the occurrence of desirable traits and eliminating those with bad ‘genes.’ Unfortunately, as historical data indicates, the selective weeding of individuals considered to be with bad genes leads in many atrocities, such as forced sterilization and racial discrimination (Brokowski & Mazhar 95). People should not be modified out of existence for some version of a utopian future,

Additionally, the unprecedented growth of CRISPR raises an ethical issue regarding the technology in non-therapeutic contexts. Certain CRISPR features allow crops and livestock enhancement. With an estimated 1 billion people facing undernourishment, evidence indicates that CRISPR improves nutrient content in food (Brokowski & Mazhar 97). However, while such an approach is beneficial, a concern arises about the accessibility of such products, the beneficiaries, and the cost. Another CRISPR application is its gene drive technology. With the capacity to edit the genome, the technology can alter an entire population and species (Shinwari et al.106). Finally, if allowed, CRISPR can enhance human features, and it becomes challenging to define the normality of human features and a biological phenotype (Rath 111). Most technological advancements cause minimal harm when only a few people use them. If the technology becomes permissible for human features enhancements and embryo modification, most women bearing children will use the technology and those without will be considered abnormal. The echnology may be beneficial for both humans and society in the long-run. Still, it fails to dictate clearly whether the process is a necessary medical need or merely an enhancement.  

Finally, CRISPR’s rapid advancement presents a challenge on who should access the technology and its products. Like most advancements, CRISPR is expected to be profitable to patent holders. Patent issues for CRISPR are not unique (Gonzalez-Avila et al. 1344). The initial cost of CRISPR products is likely to be costly. The ethical concern is whether the high price will confer purchases only to a special class of societies. Given that grants from the government provide most technology funding, it is ethically problematic to deny potential benefits to those who funded the process (Brokowski & Mazhar 98). The initial development stage witnessed court disputes after private companies seized the opportunity to use the technology to research diseases treatment and gained the exclusive right to use the technology in a way that would prevent other companies from conducting similar research. Given that CRISPR is still in its research phase, various parties are fighting to own the patents of these discoveries. Furthermore, even if the patent right is allowed for some, there may be economic harm due to the high-price purchases. Individuals requiring the CRISPR and its application to maintain a certain life quality will have to choose between the treatment and other necessities (Morrison & Stevienna 7). While the challenge is not unique to the genomic advancements, allowing unreasonable high prices will promote economic and psychological harm to continue. Anti-price gouging laws, where necessary, must be encouraged.

In sum, CRISPR is still in its research stages and continues to mature. The potential benefits of such revolutionary technology are endless. Nonetheless, similar to all biomedical innovations, potential related risks raise ethical concerns. The safety concern with the technology is unprecedentedly rapid, with some researchers promoting human clinical trials even before its technological paradigm has been fully validated. Most research indicates the CRISPR technology is still not precise. Hence, rapid use of the technology might result in long-term unintended changes to an organism’s genome that will be translated to the next generation. The major risk is the unknown changes in genes. However, relevant bodies must examine the rationale behind these prohibitions to ensure reasonable justification rather than fear. All future CRISPR endeavors need to maintain legal and biomedical principles that safeguard human dignity, patients’ integrity, and genetic information content.

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Works cited

Morrison, Michael, and Stevienna de Saille. “CRISPR in context: towards a socially responsible debate on embryo editing.” Palgrave Communications 5.1 (2019): 1-9.

Brokowski, Carolyn, and Mazhar Adli. “CRISPR ethics: moral considerations for applications of a powerful tool.” Journal of molecular biology 431.1 (2019): 88-101.

Gonzalez-Avila, Luis Uriel, et al. “The Challenge of CRISPR-Case toward bioethics.” Frontiers in Microbiology 12 (2021): 1344.

Shinwari, Zabta Khan, Faouzia Tanveer, and Ali Talha Khalil. “Ethical issues regarding CRISPR mediated genome editing.” Current issues in molecular biology 26.1 (2018): 103-110.

Sandy Sufian and Rosemarie Garland-Thomson. “The Dark Side Of CRISPR.” Scientific American, 2021

Davies, Benjamin. “The technical risks of human gene editing.” Human Reproduction 34.11 (2019): 2104-2111.

Rath, Johannes. “Safety and security risks of CRISPR/Cas9.” In Ethics Dumping, pp. 107-113. Springer, Cham, 2018.