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Prosman, Annelien, 2021. The ethics of genome editing of animals. Second cycle, A2E. Uppsala: SLU, Dept. of Animal Breeding and Genetics



In the Western culture nowadays, a large number of animals is used for food production and because
of the growing world population, the demand for animal products is increasing even more. Since the
planet has its environmental boundaries, it is important that these products are produced
sustainably to minimize negative environmental impacts. Modern techniques, such as genome
editing (i.e. a technology that is able to add, remove or alter DNA in a way that does not occur
naturally), are suggested to be able to contribute to a sustainable production of animal products.

The application of genome editing could profoundly affect a large number of animals and its
outcome could shape society. Ethical reflections on the application of genome editing are therefore
important. In this thesis, there was focus on four important ethical theories (utilitarianism, duty
ethics, care ethics and virtue ethics) and their place in the debate on genome editing of animals.
Lastly, suggestions were made to improve the debate on genome editing of animals.

Firstly, utilitarianism judges an action based on its consequences. Actions are considered right when
they provide the greatest good for the greatest amount of people and when they minimize suffering
for all those involved. In order to determine whether genome editing of animals is justifiable, the
benefits of genome editing of animals should be balanced against the entailed costs. Besides the
direct costs of genome editing on animals (e.g. the consequences for successfully genome edited
animals), also the indirect costs should be taken into account (e.g. the risk of animals with an
unintended disorder or risk of miscarriages at a later stage of pregnancy). However, as observed in
the literature review, few authors in the literature review actually made an assessment of the
consequences, which could be due to some unknown risks of genome editing. Besides, utilitarian
argumentation was observed to have the tendency to miss out on other valuable arguments by solely
focusing on consequences.

Duty ethics, or the animal rights theory, is a non-consequentialist theory which manifests itself in the
thought that an action can be right or wrong by itself. Individuals who are able to experience life (i.e.
those who satisfy the subjects-of-a-life criterion) are thought to have value in themselves, also
known as inherent value. All those who have inherent value (e.g. humans and some animals such as
farm animals) have it equally, and they therefore all have the right to be respected and not to be
harmed. As a consequence, raising and slaughtering animals for their meat is unjustifiable because it
violates their rights and genome editing for those purposes is therefore not accepted. However, as
observed in the literature review, this established position on just the use of animals leaves very
limited room in the discussion, which could narrow the position of duty ethics in the debate.
Furthermore, since wrong-doings being part of the act are condemned, rather than the outcomes of
the act, it could be difficult to reject application of genome editing of animals based duty ethics
(referred to as the non-identity problem).

In care ethics, the communication between human and animal takes a central place. Communication
is formed by observation of the animal (e.g. observing facial expressions or vocalizations), which
leaves room for human interpretation, feelings and sentiment, resulting in an attentive, responding
and caring attitude towards animals. In order to determine whether genome editing is justifiable, it is
important whether the intention corresponds with a caring attitude towards animals. In the
literature review, care ethics was underrepresented which could be due to the diversity of opinions
within care ethics.

According to virtue ethics, we should strive to develop character traits that a morally good person
would have (i.e. virtues). A virtues person is able to do what is right because the intention of the
person’s action is right. This could also be applied to the concept of genome editing, where the
intention of genome editing of animals should be taken into account in order to determine whether
genome editing is justifiable or not. Furthermore, according to virtue ethics, the essence and purpose of a creature (i.e. telos) should be respected and the opinions are divided whether genome editing
goes against this principle. In the literature review, it was observed that virtue ethical arguments are
not always clearly recognizable, which could be a limitation of virtue ethics in the genome editing

In conclusion, a lack of interdisciplinary reasoning was observed in the genome editing debate, which
could limit the debate. To stimulate understanding and improve the debate in the future, education
could play a crucial role. Furthermore, similarities between ethical theories could be used as a
starting point in the debate to boost mutual understanding.

Main title:The ethics of genome editing of animals
Authors:Prosman, Annelien
Supervisor:Rydhmer, Lotta and Röcklinsberg, Helena and Bovenkerk, Bernice
Examiner:Jonas, Elisabeth
Volume/Sequential designation:UNSPECIFIED
Year of Publication:2021
Level and depth descriptor:Second cycle, A2E
Student's programme affiliation:Other
Supervising department:(VH) > Dept. of Animal Breeding and Genetics
Keywords:ethics, genome editing, animals
Permanent URL:
Subject. Use of subject categories until 2023-04-30.:Animal genetics and breeding
Additional Information:Bernice Bovenkerk, WUR, Department of Social Sciences (Communication, Philosophy and Technology
Deposited On:23 Aug 2021 08:03
Metadata Last Modified:24 Aug 2021 01:06

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