We argue that egg donors should be more involved in discussions on the ethical aspects of human germline gene editing (see Nature 574, 465–466 (2019) and E. S. Lander et al. Nature 567, 165–168; 2019).
Experimental data from large numbers of human embryos could be necessary to refine and improve germline gene editing, as well as to evaluate the technique’s safety and efficacy. Moreover, studies involving the creation of embryos seem preferred for testing for specific mutations and to reduce mosaicism (H. Ma et al. Nature 548, 413–419; 2017). This means that oocytes will have to be procured from large numbers of women.
Oocyte harvesting exposes the donors to serious short- and long-term health risks, raising questions about the ethical acceptability of experiments that require this procedure. Although donors are often compensated for the inconvenience, the practice prompts concerns about undue inducement — particularly for financially vulnerable women. The ethical issues are exacerbated because it is by no means certain that clinical applications of germline gene editing will eventually be permitted.
Above and beyond the physical risks, these wider ethical and policy issues should be made clear to potential donors so that they can make an informed choice and have a chance to be properly engaged in the debate.
Nature 575, 51 (2019)