Edward Hockings holds a degree and a Ph.D. in philosophy, as well as a postgraduate degree in law and international politics, from King's College London. He currently holds the position of philosophy lecturer and researcher at Hoa Sen University. His research primarily focuses on the impact of technology on values and ethics, and specialises in bioethics. In addition to his scholarly work in this field, Edward has actively participated in policy and governance related to life science technologies. He was an invited speaker at the UK Houses of Parliament Inquiry on Gene Editing and Genomics.
The title of my keynote is:
International human rights law and genome editing: unfit for purpose or time to evolve?
I explore how our thinking about technologies that can alter human genetics has changed over a short period. The domestic context was characterised by blanket bans on genetic engineering, stem cell research, and cloning. Internationally, UNESCO and the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of the Human Genome and Human Rights (1997). This was followed by what is known as the 'Oviedo Convention,' which was signed into law by 29 European countries. Both documents took the view that genetic engineering, especially when alterations are passed onto future generations, should be prohibited.
The last decade has witnessed unrivalled progress in genetic technologies. Several countries have passed new laws, and regulatory approval has been given for genetic modification of human embryos and three-parent IVF. Not only are we witnessing changes in law and regulation, but also in values, concepts, and the language used in relation to these new technologies. While international law, such as the Universal Declaration of the Human Genome and Human Rights (1997), gives centrality to notions of humanity, human dignity, and protecting the human genome, the focus is now on the individual and parental rights to use these technologies and ensuring their safe use. Furthermore, a growing chorus of voices is calling for the international ban on germ-line editing to be lifted.
I ask what role foundational concepts such as humanity and human dignity, which acted as constraints on how these technologies can be used, will play in the coming years. Are we seeing an evolution in our thinking about these technologies? If so, I ask whether human rights, which can also adapt and evolve, still has an important part to play.