Deficits of Public Deliberation in U.S. Oversight for Gene Edited Organisms

J. Kuzma,  Hastings Center Report,  51 Suppl 2:S25-s33. 2021.

Environmental releases of gene edited (GEdOs) and gene drive organisms (GDOs) will likely occur under conditions of high uncertainty and in complex socioecological systems. Therefore, public deliberation is especially important to account for diverse interpretations of safety, risks, and benefits; to draw on experiential and public wisdom in areas of proposed release; to ameliorate dangers of technological optimism; and to increase the public legitimacy of decisions. Yet there is a “democratic deficit” in the United States’ oversight system for GEdOs and GDOs, as unconflicted experts, publics, and skeptical stakeholders are most often excluded from decision-making and unavailable to critically examine potential risks and benefits or raise broader concerns about socioeconomic or cultural impacts. This article argues for the need to open up decision-making for GEdOs and GDOs, discusses the challenges for doing so within the current oversight framework, and finally, proposes institutional, policy, and attitudinal changes that are likely important for overcoming barriers to public deliberation.

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