Embryos as Patients? Medical Provider Duties in the Age of CRISPR/Cas9

By: G. Edward Powell III

The CRISPR/Cas9 genome engineering platform is the first method of gene editing that could potentially be used to treat genetic disorders in human embryos. No past therapies, genetic or otherwise, have been intended or used to treat disorders in existent embryos. Past procedures performed on embryos have exclusively involved creation and implantation (e.g., in-vitro fertilization) or screening and selection of already-healthy embryos (e.g., preimplantation genetic diagnosis). A CRISPR/Cas9 treatment would evade medical malpractice law due to the early stage of the intervention and the fact that it is not a treatment for the mother. In most jurisdictions, medical professionals owe no duty to pre-viable fetuses or embryos as such, but will be held liable for negligent treatment of the mother if the treatment causes injury to a born-alive child. This issue brief discusses the science of CRISPR/Cas9, the background legal status of human embryos, and the case for considering genetically engineered embryos as patients for purposes of medical malpractice law.
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Cite: 15 Duke L. & Tech. Rev. 344

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