Updates: The California Legislature and the Market in Human Eggs

Posted by Marcy Darnovsky on June 30th, 2016

A fertility industry-sponsored bill that would expand the market in human eggs is barreling through the California legislature, in spite of opposition from women’s health, reproductive justice, and public interest organizations. AB 2531 would overturn a California law that lets researchers reimburse women for their expenses incurred in providing eggs, but disallows payments beyond that. The 2006 statute that AB 2531 would eviscerate was authored by former state Senator Deborah Ortiz, known for championing both women’s health and stem cell research, and approved almost unanimously by both the Assembly and Senate.

In an April blog post, Will California Expand the Market for Women’s Eggs?, we summarized the reasons for opposing AB 2531 (see also this CGS letter) and reported that it had been unanimously approved by the Assembly Health Committee. In early June, the Senate Health Committee posted its analysis of the bill, including a summary of the arguments for and against it, and a list of its supporters and opponents.

The Committee passed the bill by a vote of 8-1 at a June 15 hearing. Testimony by CGS’s Elliot Hosman against it can be viewed here (starting at 52:35), or read at the end of this post. The full Senate will vote on AB 2531 when it returns from recess in early August; assuming it is passed, it will then be sent to Governor Brown for his signature or veto. The Governor vetoed an almost identical bill in 2013 with the following message:

Not everything in life is for sale nor should it be.

This bill would legalize the payment of money in exchange for a woman submitting to invasive procedures to stimulate, extract and harvest her eggs for scientific research.

The questions raised here are not simple; they touch matters that are both personal and philosophical.

In medical procedures of this kind, genuinely informed consent is difficult because the long-term risks are not adequately known. Putting thousands of dollars on the table only compounds the problem.

Six years ago the Legislature, by near unanimity, enacted the prohibition that this bill now seeks to reverse. After careful review of the materials which both supporters and opponents submitted, I do not find sufficient reason to change course.

I am returning this bill without my signature.

David Jensen of the California Stem Cell Report covered AB 2531 for the Capitol Weekly (Senate eyes human egg business), and Diane Tober discussed it at Undark (The Politics of Women’s Eggs). The notoriously under-studied risks of egg harvesting were also featured in a recent Washington Post article, Do women who donate their eggs run a health risk?

Testimony in opposition to AB 2531 by Elliot Hosman

Good morning, and thank you. I am Elliot Hosman, Senior Program Associate at the Center for Genetics and Society, a public interest organization based in Berkeley. We have long been concerned with the lack of adequate research on the health risks of egg retrieval. Our concerns are broadly shared by many others, including national and California women’s health and reproductive justice organizations you see opposing this bill, and including scholars and health professionals, and women who have themselves undergone egg retrieval.

The research that could identify the extent and frequency of health risks associated with egg retrieval has simply not been done. It’s been called upon to be done for decades, but it has not been done. Thus the information women would need to give informed consent does not currently exist. Unfortunately, this bill increases payments without providing mechanisms to bring about the conditions for substantive informed consent that women deserve.

The intent to treat egg providers as “human research subjects” may sound like a good idea, but in fact egg providers are not “research subjects” as we usually understand that term. They provide the cells that are used in research, not for their benefit, but no research is performed to ascertain the effects of egg retrieval on their own health outcomes.

While some Institutional Review Boards may review egg retrieval procedures, they are not required to do so. For example, if the eggs are anonymized, many reviewers may deem they are no longer required to evaluate retrieval protocols or informed consent forms, and eggs are often anonymized, so this is often case.

Even when IRBs do review, they typically do not provide adequate safeguards:

  • They don’t require tracking short term outcomes, so we don’t have good data on how many egg providers are injured or hospitalized due to ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome from the drugs they’re on.
  • They don’t require tracking long term outcomes so we have almost no data on the stimulation drug regimen’s impacts on their fertility, their short-term or long-term cancer risks, or other problems they may face.
  • They seldom require follow up health care for egg providers. At best they cover treatment of short term injuries that can be directly and causally linked, but don’t cover any longer term harms.  
  • They don’t review the treatment outcomes of clinics or researchers to determine if any are using inappropriate protocols that harm egg providers.
  • We all support promising research that might provide broad benefits, and we all want to make sure that women’s health is not compromised in the process.

Unfortunately, this bill does not accomplish that, and we respectfully urge you to vote against it.

Previously on Biopolitical Times:

The Disappointing NAS Gene Drive Report

Posted by Pete Shanks on June 30th, 2016

On June 8, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine issued a report about gene drives, titled:

Gene Drives on the Horizon: Advancing Science, Navigating Uncertainty, and Aligning Research with Public Values

The headline of the associated press release summed it up succinctly:

Gene-Drive Modified Organisms Are Not Ready to Be Released Into Environment; New Report Calls for More Research and Robust Assessment

Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, commended the authors for a "thoughtful and comprehensive review of the unprecedented potential and challenge of gene drive technologies." That’s true enough. It is a valuable resource for a much-needed public debate — but it is sadly incomplete, and occasionally misleading. 

The report’s skepticism about "reversal drives" is welcome (see Recommendation 5-5, p. 99) but inadequate. If gene drive technology goes wrong, is the solution really to be more gene drive? Indeed, Kevin Esvelt, one of the pioneers of (and an advocate for) gene drive told The New York Times that the report failed to adequately flag its central risk. 

"They assume you can safely run a contained field trial," he said. "But anytime you release an organism with a gene drive system into the wild you must assume there is a significant chance that it will spread — globally — and factor that in."

The report makes repeatedly admits that field research is most likely to occur in "low- and middle-income countries" (p. 6 etc), recognizes "that many countries lack the capacity to develop a comprehensive regulatory scheme for gene drives from scratch" (p. 8), and the like. These should be warning flags. If technology really can help underdeveloped nations, the impetus should come from them. And the U.S. is not a party to the multilateral Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and its protocols, which aims to promote fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from genetic resources. U.S. institutions are developing technology that, if applied, will mostly be used elsewhere. Centuries of exploitation do not suggest that wealthy foreigners are the best judges of humanitarian needs. 

(Or perhaps we should invite Cuban doctors to set up clinics in Appalachia?)

The report also appears to downplay the possibility of "weaponizing" gene drive technology. The worst case — a deliberately belligerent release of modified pathogens — would surely rank with nuclear destruction as a prospect to be avoided; and mere mistakes could be as bad. There is a reason the ETC Group titled its comment [pdf] on the report:

Stop the Gene Bomb!

Jim Thomas of the ETC Group wrote an excellent article about the report for the Guardian, calling for the CBD to agree on an international moratorium on release of gene drives. Friends of the Earth asked sardonically, "Permanently changing a species: What could go wrong?" and called for a moratorium. Ron Bailey of Reason initially wrote an apparently knee-jerk response ("Go slow and let more people suffer and die") which misunderstood Esvelt’s position; he then appended a much more interesting Correction acknowledging that "How to regulate an open access commons is always a perplexing problem." Michael Specter in The New Yorker called the National Academies’ effort "a worthy, if somewhat tepid, report," and Stanford’s Hank Greely agreed, in a valuable blog post that made "Eight Quick Points."

Finally, the report sometimes reads as though its goal was not so much "aligning research with public values" as "aligning public values with research." It’s striking that the "stakeholders" mentioned do not appear to include any of the civil-society groups widely known to have raised concerns about this issue. "Stakeholders" are described (Figure 7-1, p. 122) as "people with direct professional or personal interests in gene drives." May I raise my hand? I work with the Center for Genetics and Society; other public interest organizations that have been involved with gene drive deliberations include ETC GroupFriends of the Earth, and International Center for Technology Assessment.

Unfortunately, the initial flurry of reactions seems to have died down. Gene drive could be a major disruptive technology. It could affect not only our environment — the "out there" — but our food and even our selves. This report deserves to provoke a massive, global debate. A long pause for reflection is the least that is needed. Or T. S. Eliot may have finally been proved correct:

This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

Previously on Biopolitical Times:

On the 14-Day Rule and Other Limits

Posted by Pete Shanks on June 29th, 2016

What is the speed limit where you live? In California, it varies but the maximum is 112.654 kph. In France, the speed limit can run as high as 80.778 mph (actually a couple of yards more). 

You don’t see those numbers on road signs, because the California vernacular uses the mile, which is officially defined as 1,609.344 meters, while France uses the kilometer. A meter, of course, is the length of the path travelled by light in vacuum during a time interval of 1/(299,792,458) of a second. It’s obvious when you think about it.

In both jurisdictions, the concept of a speed limit is the same, and the idea is generally justified by public safety, and perhaps fuel conservation, neighborhood nuisances and so on. It’s a common-sense restriction that gives all drivers guidance, and that is meant especially for those lacking in common sense.

The limit is not defined by the maximum speed of a vehicle.

Biology also has its widely accepted rules, which are sometimes given the force of law and sometimes mostly a matter of custom and ethics. Many of these were agreed at a time when there was no immediate prospect of successfully breaking them: a firm line, legally codified in dozens of countries, against human germline intervention, for instance, or the internationally accepted norm of a 14-day limit on human embryo experiments. They give researchers a clear guideline within to work, and they give the public confidence that rogue scientists will not go overboard.

Until very recently, no one had come close to growing a human embryo in a dish for 14 days. In May, however, two different groups of scientists (12) published experiments demonstrating that they could indeed do that. Simultaneously, three scholars — all experts in bioethics theory and/or practice — published a piece in Nature titled:

Embryology policy: Revisit the 14-day rule

They were just raising the question, they insisted in response to the obvious retort: Why revisit if you don’t want to change the rule? "Revisit need not mean revise," tweeted one author. Some other bioethicists, including Jonathan Moreno, agree that:

What’s really more important than whether it’s permissible to move those goalposts is how we make that decision.

That sounds incredibly reasonable. But why now? Just because the rule has suddenly become inconvenient? If that is the case, does it suggest that some bioethicists see their mission as working to legitimate whatever research desires scientists may have? That is, to convince the public of what they ought to think is good for them?

And if the pragmatic and useful 14-day agreement is broken, what then? Hank Greely spelled out a basic complaint:

"I don’t know where you stop. I do know that I would feel very concerned about a 20-week fetus being used as an experimental object, because it’s too damn close to being a baby," he said. "And people should not be treated as objects."

Greely expanded on this in his own blog post. Françoise Baylis wrote a nuanced analysis. By coincidence, the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) issued its latest guidelines for stem-cell research [pdf] a few days later: they stick firmly to the 14-day rule.

There will undoubtedly continue to be pressure to change the norms that have guided research in many related fields over the next few years. Human-animal chimeras are up for discussion, so of course are human germline interventions, and gene drives in other species. Many knowledgeable people, including scientific participants, regard the prospects as extremely scary. 

Admittedly, in some cases, adjusting existing rules may seem sensible; the 55 mph speed limit was widely ignored and eventually repealed. But that change had nothing to do with the technical abilities of car manufacturers.

The top speed of a production car has been over 110 mph since 1947, and over 150 mph since 1959. It’s now over 250 mph, and I’d like to see that Bugatti trying to weave its way up the Pacific Coast Highway. Probably couldn’t get out of second gear.

Previously on Biopolitical Times:

Hateful politics infiltrate human genome editing debate in France

Posted by Elliot Hosman on June 29th, 2016

Untitled Document

A recent campaign calling for a ban on “transgenic” human embryos was launched by one of France’s most prominent organizations fighting for “science”-backed “one-man-one-woman” families, and the exclusion of all other forms.


“Stop GMO Baby: Yes to therapeutic progress, no to transgenic embryos” (image via Alliance VITA).

Since March 24, more than 15,500 people in France have signed a petition started by Alliance VITA declaring (translated from French*):

“I ask my country to engage with all urgency to obtain an international moratorium – that is to say an immediate stop – on the genetic modification of human embryos, especially via the technique CRISPR-cas9.”

*all French materials and quotations presented in English in this post have been translated using Google and my college-level French. Suggested revisions to translations are welcome and will be noted. Alliance VITA offers some materials on its website in English.

In that time, volunteers have canvassed cities around France, handing out brochures explaining the breakthrough CRISPR genome editing technology, and tweeting pictures of their advocacy using Flickr and the hashtags: #StopBébéOGM, #ProtectHumanity, and #CRISPR-Cas9.

Alliance VITA’s opposition to using human gene editing for reproduction is widely shared, including by my organization, the Center for Genetics and Society. But a closer look at the Stop GMO Baby campaign in France reveals a troubling and at times explicitly hateful politics infiltrating the human genome editing debate. A polarization of the conversation about heritable human genetic modification along “right to life” and “natural family” fault lines threatens to derail public conversations about responsible regulation of science and medicine that serves the public interest.

Paul also recently flagged Alliance VITA’s Stop GMO Baby campaign, cautioning:

“I’m concerned that these campaigns that specifically target CRISPR could have negative effects on the freedom of us scientists to do responsible CRISPR research in the lab. … at least some of the motivation seems to be related to a “right-to-life” perspective. “

I share this concern, and we’re not alone. In a February article titled Gene editing: The next frontier in America’s abortion wars, the “last scientist in Congress” U.S. Representative Bill Foster (D-IL) told Politico’s Sarah Karlin that he’d been warned by scientists that “‘this issue will get all tied up over the abortion debate,’ interfering with the creation of ‘good policy decisions.’”

The Stop GMO Baby Campaign

Alliance VITA’s campaign materials on CRISPR take as their central point that CRISPR-Cas9 is an ethically neutral and promising technology that could help gene therapy, but that any use in human embryos or gametes is a red line no researcher in the world should cross. In their other words: “GM babies? No!” Here are some examples of their slogans and statements:

  • Campaign slogan: “CRISPR-Cas9: Yes to Therapeutic Progress, No to Transgenic Embryo!” (March 24, 2016) [Brochure PDF]
  • On February 16, 2016, Alliance VITA Research Director Blanche Streb stated on Catholic television: “The technique poses no ethical problems on its own, it’s the application that does.” (YouTube)
  • Alliance VITA General Delegate-CEO Tugdual Derville commenting on Kathy Niakan’s application to the HFEA in January 2016:

“Although this technique might be promising for genetic therapy, Tugdual Derville reminds us that when applied to the human embryo: “the danger is to cause the emergence of custom-made babies, with pre-selected genetic criteria, heritable modifications, with unknown consequences for future generations. The human genome is part of our most precious “heritage of humanity.” Its integrity must absolutely be preserved for future generations.”

In March, Alliance VITA released a study they conducted finding that 76% of French people support gene therapy, but oppose using CRISPR to genetically modify embryos in vitro. Some of their data conform to a number of other recent studies. But the slipperiness of public opinion polls that Pete Shanks describes in a recent survey of public opinion of human heritable genetic modification is on point here, as the framing of questions may lead to an overstatement of the sanctity of the embryo for the people who polled their opposition.

On April 7, France’s National Assembly Parliamentary Office for Scientific and Technological Assessment (l’OPECST) held a hearing on issues raised by CRISPR (program, in French). Alliance VITA Research Director Blanche Streb testified, advocated for an international ban on embryo experiments, and noted that her organization was also concerned by “3 person IVF” mitochondrial replacement technologies in the UK. While Alliance VITA’s media statements and materials mention threats posed by eugenics and transhumanism, their stance is clearly that all experiments on embryos should cease. They appeal to UNESCO’s “genome as commons” as authority, interpreting its call for a collective responsibility to future generations as including the sanctity of the embryo.

La Manif for whom?

Pictured L to R: Xavier Bongibault (celebrated by some as a “gay voice against gay marriage”), Frigide Barjot (former celebrity face of La Manif pour tous), and Tugdual Derville (CEO of Alliance VITA) (image via Flickr/Serge klk).

* * *

Alliance VITA was a leader of the first-ever rallies of a French movement called “La Manif pour tous” (the Strike for all), a coalition of anti-abortion, anti-LGBT organizations (many professing the Catholic faith) that organized a very visible campaign to oppose the fight for “marriage for all” in France from 2012 to 2014.

For a United States audience, visible opposition to gay and lesbian couples getting married is not novel, although public opinion polls show increasing acceptance. But many the world over were taken aback by the size of the crowds marching in Paris in early 2013 holding blue, pink, and white signs that read “One man, one woman, we don’t lie to children!” The number of marchers, which was hotly debated, was between 150,000 and 1 million.

Despite the jaw-dropping scale of these protests, President François Hollande signed a parliamentary law establishing the rights of gay and lesbian couples to marry and adopt in May 2013. The following year in August 2014, the French government expanded abortion access so women no longer have to argue “distress” to access a procedure, and agreed to pay for the procedures, at least most of the time.

These recent events could sound like a bell twice tolled for those seeking to narrow French and international discourse on and regulation of what counts as “family” and “life.” But Alliance VITA has rebounded from these two developments by capitalizing on the grassroots power amassed with La Manif pour tous, focusing on other issues related to death and conception (e.g. surrogacy, embryo selection) and launching the new “citizen’s campaign” against CRISPR experiments. Two recent research reports on CRISPR research using nonviable human zygotes have catalyzed the debate about certain cellular masses of particular interest to this movement: “des embryons.”

* * *

Crowds march in Paris in 2013 to oppose extending marriage and adoption to LGBT couples (image via Wikimedia).

* * *

Flying Colors Wave

Frigide Barjot, a devout Catholic, noted in 2012 that the three colors of La Manif pour tous’ protests represented blue for men, pink for women, and white for LGBT people who were included to show that “they were loved by protestors, who were not homophobic but rather wanted to protect the very idea of ‘family’ and ‘civilization.’” Barjot’s outsider status compared to the movement’s leadership of traditional Catholic and far right political groups led to her replacement in 2013.

Left. La Manif pour tous protest in Strasbourg on February 2, 2013 (image via Wikimedia).
Right. La Manif pour tous protest in 2013 (image via Flickr/Arslan).

In contrast, the new CRISPR-related campaign takes on the cautionary yellow of GMO campaigns across Europe (stock photo search). France, along with Germany, is one of the most stalwart opponents of GMO foods in Western Europe, creating a huge constituency to draw upon for Stop GMO Baby.

Left.“GMO, I don’t want any.” Greenpeace protestors march in Montpellier in May 2015 (image via Flickr/Pete).
"92 groups mobilized in defense to inform the public of the issues posed by CRISPR-Cas9.” (image via Twitter).

* * *

The Science Cited by Alliance VITA

In its 2012 coverage of Alliance VITA and its prominent role in the La Manif pour tous protests, VICE noted with some irony the peculiar sight of “secular opposition to gay marriage”:

“The French Republic was founded on the ideas of equality and a French concept called laïcité—the complete absence of religion in governmental affairs. This means political discourse in France must be entirely free of religious rhetoric…battling civil rights, not with religious ideals, but with science, sociology, and cold, reductive rationality.”

In other words, Alliance Vita needed to invoke science to support a campaign premised on denying gay and lesbian marriage and adoption rights. So the group used a widely cited – and widely discreditedNew Family Structures Study by American sociologist Mark Regnerus on the “differences” seen in children raised by same-sex couples. The study is riddled with methodological problems, and was denounced by the American Sociological Association and 200 scientists and doctors in a 2012 open letter. But Alliance VITA’s “scientific” evidence for the superiority of traditional families goes beyond the debunked significance of Regnerus’s interviews.

Tugdual Derville, CEO and General Delegate of Alliance VITA, led the group’s March 24 press conference, and coordinates media statements with Research Director Blanche Streb. Derville is currently on tour for his newly published book Human Ecology. In various French media venues, he attacks what he refers to as “gender theory feminism,” and argues for biologically determined and distinct gender roles for men and women in family creation, education, and society. It’s what he calls the “sexus,” the natural “family ecosystem” which depends on a “Father-Mother” distinction to prevent the “self-made man.” Derville equates transhumanists with animal rights’ activists, eugenicists with feminists, and the “radical cult of youth” with the “disconnected gerontocracy.” It’s all an indistinguishable bunch of individualistic nonsense to him. “In settling their accounts with their own personal stories, their advocates endanger us all,” he states in a recent interview.

* * *

The Time of Man: for a human ecology revolution
(image via
Tugdual Derville’s website).

Some French critics of Human Ecology have accused Derville of “green-washing” his traditional ideological fare. Associate professor of French studies at MIT Bruno Perrau has studied and written about La Manif pour tous for years, and commented on the recent campaign via email:

“[T]alking about ecology allows religious arguments to appear in the public debate in a more acceptable way (that is to say as secular arguments). My sense is that there’s no thorough investment on environmental issue (it is mostly used strategically).”

University of Chicago law professor Mary Anne Case, a U.S. expert on the Catholic Church’s rhetoric, doesn’t see contradictions in the environmental packaging of Alliance Vita’s various campaigns:

“Human ecology” is a favorite framework of Benedict XVI, who used it to warn of the potentially devastating effects of what he called the “ideology of gender.”

Case points to Pope Francis’ recent encyclical on the environment (welcomed for its critique of inequality, capitalism, and human-caused global warming), which also talks disapprovingly of embryo research:

“[I]t is troubling that, when some ecological movements defend the integrity of the environment, rightly demanding that certain limits be imposed on scientific research, they sometimes fail to apply those same principles to human life. There is a tendency to justify transgressing all boundaries when experimentation is carried out on living human embryos. We forget that the inalienable worth of a human being transcends his or her degree of development.” Laudato si’, par. 136.

Case noted in an email, “Seen from within the mindset of those Catholic writers invoking the need to safeguard human ecology in their campaigns against a whole host of sexual rights and law reform efforts, religious and secular motivations openly go hand in hand in the same direction.”

The “secular science v. religious ideology” binary can get in the way of acknowledging that people across the religious and political spectrum have voiced concern about the prospect of using a new generation of genome editing tools to produce altered embryos for the purpose of human reproduction. But the Pope’s and Derville’s framing, in which environmental advocacy somehow mandates accommodating the idea that human embryos should be accorded the status of human lives, doesn’t sit well with me either; it reminds me of a “zero-sum” game, when we need to be in a “grow the pie” mindset given our volatile political climate.

* * *

Laudato Si’: On the Care of Our Common Home (image via

Dangerous Political Territory

Many voices from France have joined in international mourning for the 49 slain and 53 injured victims of the massacre at queer dance club Pulse’s Latin Night in #Orlando on June 12, 2016. In the multi-dimensional public investigation that has followed, a number of tweets using the hashtag #Manifpourtous called out Alliance VITA and its allies for their role in inciting homophobic violence around the world. On June 26, Pope Benedict called on Christians to apologize to gay people and other marginalized groups.

Back in 2012 Alliance VITA and the La Manif pour tous coalition happily cited the Regnerus study, but they weren’t the only ones citing the flawed sociological research promoting homophobic laws. Among others leveraging the “science” to wage their defense of the “natural family” was nearly every American organization opposed to LGBT rights, including the controversial National Organization for Marriage.

One of Alliance VITA’s biggest admirers is Brian Brown, National Organization for Marriage’s president. Brown spent time with La Manif pour tous campaigners in France and this year was elected as President of the World Congress of Families. WCF is an almost 20-year-old effort to organize international spaces for conservative organizers and lawmakers from around the world to collaborate on an anti-LGBT, anti-abortion, “natural family” agenda to support legislation in multiple jurisdictions. (I recommend this historical overview by the Southern Poverty Law Center.)

Supporting bans on marriage equality is tame in comparison to WCF’s other ongoing efforts. The Southern Poverty Law Center tracks the organization as part of its Hatewatch program because of its support of discriminatory legislation, including “gay propaganda” bills in Russia (where regulations recently banned transgender people from driving), “kill the gays” bills in various African countries, and for its ideologically narrow view of “healthy families” used to justify government interference into people’s sex and family lives. WCF is also currently opposing “UN entities’” efforts to expand the UN’s definition of family to include same-sex couples.

“Uniting Leaders Worldwide in Defense of Family, Faith, and Freedom”, World Congress of Families 2016 (images via Eventbrite 1, 2).

The WCF’s 10th international convening in May 2016 was held in Tblisi, Georgia, where it bestowed honors on former president George W. Bush. He declined to appear, but sent a letter saying,

“I commend your efforts to recognize the importance of families in building nations. Your work improves many lives and makes the world better.”

The event drew far right politicians from around the world, including WCF representative to France Fabrice Sorlin, and granddaughter of French National Front party founder and youngest French MP in history, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen.

The founding family of the far right National Front party in France, pictured L to R: Marine Le Pen, her father Jean-Marie Le Pen (grey suit), and her niece Marion Maréchal-Le Pen (images via Wikimedia).

Marion and her aunt, Marine Le Pen, have been the “new face” packaging for the far-right party’s xenophobic campaign slogans such as “France for the French.” Before the Brexit referendum on June 23, 2016 when the UK voted to leave the European Union, Marine Le Pen supported a British “Leave” vote to spark a “chain reaction of decomposition” of the EU.

In addition to their mutual foreign support for a British-Exit, Le Pen’s bid for the French presidency last year was also eerily Trump-like. She beat former presidents Nickolas Sarkozy and François Hollande in the first round of the presidential election in December 2015, but lost in the second. (For many, the rise of Trump in U.S. politics echoes the rise of the extreme right in the British and European contexts; others argue that the Trump phenomenon is distinctly American in nature.)

As the world wrestles to reconcile global warming, unprecedented inequality, refugee crises, and mass shootings, and now the potential for a new era in European politics, how do we confront the political extremism bubbling up in reaction as we engage in sensitive policy debates that shape the world we will leave to future generations?

Ongoing political and religious controversies over abortion and embryo research may fuel partisan ways of thinking and reactionary policies that fail to serve the public interest in this arena. As increasing awareness about CRISPR takes shape, it will be important to be clear about the many “non-embryo” reasons to be critical of some emerging human biotechnologies. We cannot let the far-right capture the conversation about the social and ethical issues surrounding heritable human genetic modification technologies.

The development of new genetic techniques such as CRISPR-Cas9 demands a reflective debate on the sort of future world we want to build, the meaning of being human, and how far we’ll go to engineer individuals to fit the society we currently have. My hope is that this debate can spark discussions about deep structural social changes that we already know are needed to improve the lives of communities around the world.

* * *

This article was cross-posted on The Niche, UC Davis stem cell researcher Paul Knoepfler's blog.

Previously on Biopolitical Times:

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