International Society for Science and Religion

Theme: CRISPR/Cas and Human Germline Gene Editing: Possibilities and Perspectives

Friday - 2:30 PM-5:00 PM

Sheraton Boston-Republic B (Second Level)

This mini-conference addresses the possibility of human germline gene editing from the perspectives of religion, bioethics, and public engagement. New genome-editing techniques, including CRISPR/Cas, enable precise changes to the genome. These alterations may include gene editing in particular patients (so-called “somatic cell gene therapy”) or in future children, which then changes the descendants of those children (“germline modification”). The journal Sciencedeclared CRISPR/Cas as the 2015 Science Breakthrough of the Year, and commentators regularly call this technology a "revolution" because it could in principle allow for germline enhancements to humans that have long been regarded as controversial by theologians and ethicists.

The first speaker is biologist Richard O. Hynes, co-chair of the Committee on Human Gene Editing: Scientific, Medical, and Ethical Considerations of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine. Working with counterparts in the Royal Society and the Chinese Academy of Science, for instance in hosting the 2015 International Summit on Human Gene Editing, this Committee has been central to discussions by experts and the general public on promises and challenges presented by advances in gene editing. Professor Hynes is the Daniel K. Ludwig Professor for Cancer Research at MIT, a Fellow of the Royal Society, and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He will comment on the state of the technical advances and what they suggest for future uses human germline modification.

Three panelists will respond in light of the scientific possibilities described by Prof. Hynes. They include (1) Laurie Zoloth, Dean of the University of Chicago Divinity School and President of the AAR in 2014, whose work brings together advances in biomedical research, bioethics, and religion; (2) Ron Cole-Turner, Vice President of the International Society for Science and Religion and editor of Design and Destiny: Jewish and Christian Perspectives on Human Germline Modification; and (3) John H. Evans, Sociology, University of California, San Diego, a leading expert on public and religious responses to advances in biotechnology and a member of the NAM/NAS Committee on Human Gene Editing. At least 30 minutes is reserved for public discussion.

Questions to be explored in this mini-conference include technical, bioethical, religious, and social issues. What should our response be to the intentional modification of the human species? Are there changes that are acceptable? What religious issues are implicated in these decisions? Which conceptions of justice are important to consider in this debate? What is the likelihood of a future society stratified by genetic traits? How can a public debate be structured so that it allows for the deeper concerns often reflected in religious discourse?

This mini-conference is organized and sponsored by the International Society for Science and Religion (ISSR). It is expected that this event will be webcast. For details, please visit the website of the National Academies (http://nationalacademies.org/gene-editing) just before the conference occurs. The ISSR gratefully acknowledges that the webcast is supported by the National Academy of Medicine's Kellogg Health of the Public Fund.

The ISSR also acknowledges the assistance of the American Academy of Religion in offering this event and the co-sponsorship of two units of the AAR: Bioethics and Religion Unit and the Human Enhancement and Transhumanism Unit.

Updated information about this session will be posted online at the ISSR website (www.issr.org.uk) or at www.issr.yolasite.com. Please direct any questions to Ron Cole-Turner at coleturn@pts.edu.


Richard O. Hynes, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Laurie Zoloth, University of Chicago

Ronald S. Cole-Turner, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

John H. Evans, University of California, San Diego

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