Ethics of gene drive mosquitoes for malaria elimination

A. J. Roberts,  McMaster University,  2022.

This thesis is concerned with presenting analyses regarding key ethical issues regarding and arising from the development and potential use of gene drive modified mosquitoes for the purpose of malaria elimination. Each of the chapters constituting this thesis offers a rigorously researched analysis which attempts to answer questions thus far unanswered in the academic literature. Chapter one explores whether the development and use of this technology can be fairly considered unethical in principle; concluding it cannot be. Chapter two explores the appropriate relationship between this technology and the precautionary principle, a prominent regulatory and governance principle which has been invoked as ostensible support for an indefinite global moratorium on all gene drive technology. The chapter concludes that the precautionary principle, at least as articulated by UNESCO, does not provide justification for a global moratorium on gene drive technology. In fact, the precautionary principle is likely unfit as a regulatory norm for some kinds of gene drive products and purposes. Chapter three was co-authored with Delphine Thizy, Global Stakeholder Engagement Manager for Target Malaria, one of the leading consortiums working on research and development of gene drive biotechnology for malaria control. Together we articulate the ethical principles selected to guide Target Malaria’s stakeholder engagement, as well as provide the rationale for their selection and expound upon some early lessons from their implementation. Chapter four offers an analysis with the goal of locating the ethically appropriate locus of political organization from which to seek permission for a gene drive modified organism release into the shared environment. The chapter considers the appropriateness of each of the following levels of political organization: consent of individuals, local communities, nation states, and international governance institutions. The conclusion arrived at, with some caveats, is that such a decision is most appropriately issued by a nation state.

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