Predicting public attitudes toward gene editing of germlines: the impact of moral and hereditary concern in human and animal applications
Background and Objective: New and more efficient methods of gene editing have intensified the ethical and legal issues associated with editing germlines. Yet no research has separated the impact of hereditary concern on public attitudes from moral concern. This research compares the impact these two concerns have on public attitudes across five applications including, the prevention of human disease, human and animal research, animals for the use of human food and the enhancement of human appearance.
Methods: A sample of 1004 Australians responded to either a telephone (n = 501; randomly selected) or online survey (n = 503; sourced by Qualtrics). Both samples were representative in terms of States and Territories as well as gender (51% female), though the online sample was younger (M = 40.64, SD = 16.98; Range = 18–87) than the telephone sample (M = 54.79, SD = 18.13; Range = 18–96). A 5 (application) by 3 (type of cell) within groups design was utilized, where all respondents reported their level of approval with scientists editing genes across the 15 different contexts. Multilevel modeling was used to examine the impact of moral (embryo vs. germ) and hereditary (germ vs. somatic) concern on attitudes across all applications.
Results: Australians were comfortable with editing human and animal embryos, but only for research purposes and to enhance human health. The effect of moral concern was stronger than hereditary concern, existing in all applications except for the use of animals for human purposes. Hereditary concern was only found to influence attitudes in two applications: improving human health and human research. Moral concern was found to be accentuated amongst, women, more religious individuals and those identifying as Australian, while hereditary concern was strongest amongst non-Australians, those with stronger trust in scientists, and more religious respondents.
Conclusion: Moral and hereditary concerns are distinct, and require different approaches to public education, engagement and possibly regulation. Further research needs to explore hereditary concern in relation to non-human applications, and the reasons underlying cultural and gender differences.
Publication titleFrontiers in Genetics
Department/SchoolFaculty of Law
PublisherFrontiers Research Foundation
Place of publicationSwitzerland
Rights statementCopyright 2019 Critchley, Nicol, Bruce, Walshe, Treleaven and Tuch. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/