In November 2018, Chinese scientist Dr. Jiankui He reported that two children, whose genomes were edited using CRISPR technology during their embryonic stage, had been born. The news took many scientists and the rest of the world by surprise, and drew much controversy about whether Dr. He’s research was scientifically and ethically appropriate. All the facts of the story are still not publicly known, and Dr. He’s claims have not been independently validated or been published in a peer-reviewed journal. He has since been fired by his university, and an investigation by the provincial health ministry has preliminarily concluded that Dr. He violated a number of Chinese national regulations. This story has raised urgent questions about building global societal consensus on whether and how to move forward with the genetic modification of the human germline (our reproductive cells and cells at early embryonic stages, where any modification could be passed on to future generations).
pgEd has produced a lesson to help teachers and students navigate these recent developments. The lesson asks students to read a Q and A article on Dr. He’s claims, as well as supplemental sources that provide background knowledge about various dimensions of this case. Students are not asked to make a moral judgement, but instead to analyze and discuss the many facets of this complex situation.