DNA inside a syringe on a blue background.

Despite the appearance of agreement, scientists are not of the same mind about the ethics and governance of human germline editing. A careful review of public comments and published commentaries in top-tier science journals reveals marked differences in perspective. These divergences have significant implications for research practice and policy concerning heritable human genome editing.

The current chapter in the debate about the societal and political implications of human germline editing took off nearly four years ago, in response to a laboratory experiment in which researchers in China used CRISPR technology on nonviable human embryos. In March 2015, an article titled “Don’t Edit the Human Germline,” coauthored by scientists and others working on somatic cell genome editing and associated with the Alliance for Regenerative Medicine, appeared in the “Comment” section of Nature. A week later, Science published a “Perspective” commentary coauthored by another group, most of them scientists convened by CRISPR codiscoverer Jennifer Doudna, under the title “A prudent path forward for genomic engineering and germline genetic modification.”

The first article described the “tenuous” therapeutic benefit, and the likely serious...