Biopolitics in 2023

Biopolitical Times
Scientists inspecting DNA

Throughout 2023, the Center for Genetics and Society stepped up its efforts to put social justice and human rights at the center of discussions about powerful new human biotechnologies. This push was reflected at the CGS blog Biopolitical Times in contributions by staff, consultants, and invited writers. The posts are compiled, along with announcements and curated articles from other sources, in our monthly newsletter Biopolitical News and Views. Taken together, those highlighted here offer an overview of the year’s key biopolitical developments.

During the early part of the year, we focused considerably though not exclusively on Spotlighting Social Justice, in the run-up to the Third International Summit on Human Genome Editing. That major scientific conference took place in London on March 6–8. CGS Associate Director Katie Hasson attended, and presented a report that noted events not only within the official hall but also outside, including an “International Declaration Against Legalisation of Human Genetic Modification.” Her report on the Summit: 

Dispatch from the Gene Editing Summit, March 10

Also in early 2023, political scientist Jennifer Denbow considered the broader ideological and technological contexts of the prospect of heritable genome editing:

The transhumanist philosopher, Silicon Valley money, and lab-made gametes, February 9

Pete Shanks analyzed how some British proponents of legalizing heritable genome editing are scheming to “future proof” UK regulatory structures to make it happen:

A Sandbox for Designer Babies? February 23

The next few months saw commentary on, among other topics, polygenic risk scores, artificial gametes (1, 2) and reports from England, never confirmed, of the first births following nuclear genome transfer (aka “3-person IVF”). 

On a ridiculous note, Pete Shanks skewered former cryptocurrency billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried about what became perhaps the least of his well-deserved worries:

Ineffective Altruism, Apocalypse, and Human Genetic Enhancement, July 21

We published two fascinating reviews in August. Emma McDonald Kennedy, assistant professor of Christian Ethics at Villanova University and CGS consultant, wrote about a very popular five-part New York Times podcast series, which explored the intersections between cultural dismissals of women’s pain and unjust structures in the fertility industry:

Reviewing ‘The Retrievals’: The Compounding Pain of Reproductive Injustice, August 21

Guest contributor Gabriela Corona Valencia, an education historian and a social science researcher, considered how responsible we may be for the supremacist legacies left behind by our ancestors:

Book Review: Mud, Blood, and Ghosts: Populism, Eugenics, and Spiritualism in the American West, August 22

Pete Shanks, in addition to promoting techno-pessimism, dissected the foolishness of some over-privileged worriers and would-be eugenicists:

Natalism and Hipster Eugenics, September 21

Two guest posts by Dr. Isabelle Bartram, molecular biologist and Program Director at Gen-ethisches Netzwerk (Gen-ethical Network), a Berlin-based nonprofit organization advocating for the responsible use and governance of human genetics, discussed Justice for Henrietta Lacks (November 14) and:

“Whether” or never: Reproductive genome editing in humans, October 10

The final post of the year came from Katie Hasson, on the considerable pros and cons of much-heralded but very expensive gene therapies for sickle cell disease:

CRISPR Therapies Heading to the Clinic, December 13

The new year will undoubtedly offer plentiful opportunities for commentary. CGS would be delighted to hear from more potential contributors. The discussions need to continue.