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Science fiction authors’ perspectives on human genetic engineering
  1. Derek So1,
  2. Kelsey Crocker1,
  3. Robert Sladek2,
  4. Yann Joly1
  1. 1Human Genetics, Centre of Genomics and Policy, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
  2. 2Medicine and Human Genetics, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
  1. Correspondence to Derek So, Human Genetics, Centre of Genomics and Policy, McGill University, Montreal H3A 0G1, Canada; derek.so{at}mail.mcgill.ca

Abstract

Participants in the human gene editing debate often consider examples from science fiction but have rarely engaged directly with the science fiction community as stakeholders. To understand how science fiction authors develop and spread their views on gene editing, we created an online questionnaire that was answered by 78 authors, including 71 who had previously written about genetic engineering. When asked which ethical issues science fiction should explore, respondents most frequently mentioned affordability, new social divisions, consent and unforeseen safety risks. They rarely advocated exploring psychological effects or religious objections. When asked which works of fiction had influenced their perceptions of gene editing, the most frequent responses were the film Gattaca, the Star Trek franchise and the novels The Island of Doctor Moreau and Brave New World. Unlike other stakeholders, they rarely cited Frankenstein as an influence. This article examines several differences between bioethicists, the general public and science fiction authors, and discusses how this community’s involvement might benefit proponents and opponents of gene editing. It also provides an overview of works mentioned by our respondents that might serve as useful references in the debate.

  • genetics
  • English literature
  • medical ethics/bioethics
  • rhetoric of bioethics

Data availability statement

All data relevant to the study are included in the article or uploaded as supplemental information. Full results from this study are available in online supplemental file S2, except for the names of authors who wished to appear anonymously.

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Data availability statement

All data relevant to the study are included in the article or uploaded as supplemental information. Full results from this study are available in online supplemental file S2, except for the names of authors who wished to appear anonymously.

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Footnotes

  • Twitter @derek___so

  • Correction notice This article has been corrected since it was published Online First. A typo has been fixed and missing text has been reinstated.

  • Contributors DS conceived and coordinated the study. DS and KC analysed the data. YJ and RS provided guidance in developing the study. All authors edited the manuscript.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient and public involvement statement Although science fiction authors were not involved in developing the research questions or questionnaire for this study, the use of Twitter as a recruitment mechanism was independently suggested by members of the Codex forum and the ‘Open Call’ Facebook group, who generously volunteered to share the link with their similarly interested followers. After author DS posted a link to the questionnaire on Twitter, the link was retweeted approximately 42 times by various members of the science fiction community, including several authors who were acquainted with author DS from the Clarion workshop. We plan to share a preprint of this article for comments by participants if there is positive feedback from the journal.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Supplemental material This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.

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