Virtue ethics as the basis of Aotearoa New Zealand's response to Crispr Cas-9 : a framework and defence : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Philosophy at Massey University, Albany, New Zealand
Gene editing in humans has long been a topic of ethical debate. Although gene editing techniques have been in development for many years now, the emergence of a faster and cheaper method, CRISPR (Clustered, Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats), is increasing the urgency of such debates. CRISPR has been recognised as a 'game-changer' across the scientific community and in commercial spheres, offering potential for life-saving treatments and even the eradication of serious diseases in humans. However, the speed and affordability of CRISPR lends it towards widespread use outside of laboratory settings, and is outstripping the pace of the current regulatory policies on gene editing applications. There remains a concerning gap between CRISPR technology and policies regulating its use in an ethically sound, safe manner, not only for this generation, but for generations to come. In Aotearoa New Zealand, there has not been an official review of gene editing policy in over two decades, well before the emergence of CRISPR as a major player in biotechnology. This project will compare major normative accounts of consequentialism and deontology with various accounts of virtue ethics, explaining why consequentialist and deontological processes will not be up to the task of guiding responses to ethically complex gene editing cases on their own. This work shifts the focus to decision-makers tasked with determining the most ethical course of action on individual cases pertaining to CRISPR uses in Aotearoa New Zealand. I propose a novel 'toolkit' of virtues developed from virtue ethics traditions, grounded in principles of Tikanga Māori, in combination with a casuist approach to individual cases. This approach aims to empower decision makers to consider and account for the broader aspects of such decisions. As the issues in this project concern complex and multifaceted issues, this thesis will not uncover any specific, definitive answers regarding individual issues. In fact, one of my primary concerns is that we should resist very generalised, top-down pronouncements regarding particular cases of gene editing. Rather, the framework outlined in this thesis presents a new approach to addressing such issues, one that I believe warrants further exploration.