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Thinking the unthinkable: how did human germline genome editing become ethically acceptable?

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Ilke TurkmendagORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC 4.0).


Two major reports in the UK and USA have recently sanctioned as ethically acceptable genome editing of future generations for the treatment of serious rare inherited conditions. This marks an important turning point in the application of recombinant DNA techniques to humans. The central question this paper addresses is how did it became possible for human genetic engineering (HGE) of future generations to move from an illegitimate idea associated with eugenics in the 1980s to a concrete proposal sanctioned by scientists and bioethicists in 2020? The paper uses the concept of a regime of normativity to understand the co-evolution and mutual shaping of technology, imaginaries, norms and governance processes in debates about HGE in the USA and UK. It will be argued that interlinked discursive, institutional, political and technological changes have made proposals for the use of genome editing in the genetic engineering of future generations both ‘thinkable’ and legitimate.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Martin P, Turkmendag I

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: New Genetics and Society

Year: 2021

Volume: 40

Issue: 4

Pages: 384-405

Online publication date: 02/07/2021

Acceptance date: 15/04/2021

Date deposited: 19/05/2021

ISSN (print): 1463-6778

ISSN (electronic): 1469-9915

Publisher: Routledge


DOI: 10.1080/14699915.2021.1932451


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