In Australia Gene editing technology is fast on the rise and has large potential for change in the future and therefore must be legislated and monitored with great care for the benefit of Australia and its inhabitants. Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) allows scientists to essentially copy and paste DNA in humans, animals,bacteria and plants. The benefits of this technology to humans include the ability to “erase” hereditary diseases such as muscular dystrophy and parkinisins. The issues that genome editing technology raises are largely based on ethics, morals and the possible side effects.
CRISPR is a controversial topic, this is due to the fact that editing the human genome can have unforeseen and unpredictable side effects. Even though this problem is mainly ethical and moral it leads to legal controversies as if removing or adding a piece of DNA is deemed safe and a problem arises leading to the subject’s death who is to blame and what punishment should be sought after as well as what legislation should be in place to protect the patient and/or practitioner.
Legislation for Genome editing exists in Australia as CRISPR is not the first gene editing tool to exist. it is the latest tool and unlike its predecessors it is relatively cheap and precise making it available to less experienced hands increasing its accessibility. Unlike many parts of law CRISPR’s accessibility is a major factor in the legislation, not because only a select few have the ability to access the technology but because it has the potential to be so wide spread that it may not be controllable if effective legislation is put in place in accordance with the technology’s availability.
The law regulates GMO licenses through the gene technology regulator which has the power to provide practitioners with appropriate licensing for gene technology, this conveys the legal systems awareness of accessibility and regulates it through a government sustained organisation. This shows that the legal system has an effective system to deal with the issue of accessibility.
In The Gene Technology Act 2000 (Cth) a genetically modified organism (GMO) is defined as
- (a) an organism that has been modified by gene technology
But does not include
- (d) a human being, if the human being is covered by paragraph (a) only because the human being has undergone somatic cell gene therapy.
There is a fundamental mistake in the above legislation as a GMO is “an organism that has been genetically modified through gene technology” even though humans are specifically only considered a GMO if they have undergone somatic cell therapy.
The legal definition of GMO is inaccurate for today’s definition showing poor responsiveness by the legal system in regards to identification of Genetically modified organisms.
In Australia legislation on gene editing technology is relatively ineffective in its responsiveness as it is severely lacking and has an incorrect identification of GMOs by today’s standards, however the legislation redeems itself by having an effective countermeasure in dealing with accessibility which is a far larger problem therefore it can be seen that legislation for Gene editing technology in Australia is effective.
The Australian government and its departments have an intergovernmental treaty with the department of health. The Gene Technology Agreement (GTA) is in place to protect both the environment and people and their respective health. The main objective of the GTA is to identify risks that are present when GMO’s are used or being reviewed for possible use.
The GTA attempts to meet the society’s needs in terms of keeping GMO’s out of the environment to protect other farmers from the damages that GMOs can cause to naturally occurring variants of the organism. The GTA effectively meets the needs of the community in terms of keeping unwanted GMOs out of environments that the GMO could possibly ruin, including native plants or animal species.
The GTA states that one of the reasons for its creation is to protect people from GMOs. protecting individuals is one of the gene technology agreements main priorities it does this by co-operation with the Australian government and its respective departments. Protection of individual rights is a difficult task to manage as to protect one’s rights they must take up the responsibility that comes with said right. The GTA protects individuals rights by ensuring that any GMO that has potential to endanger human lives and their right to life are upheld. GTA is relatively effective in its protection of individual rights as no GMOs that endanger humans have been allowed to proceed or be used.
The GTA is effective in its ability to meet the needs of society in terms of farmers and their crops. The GTA also shows the ability to effectively protect the rights of individuals where the rights of individuals are potentially at risk from GMOs. These two evaluations lead to the conclusion that the gene technology agreement is an effective legal method in dealing with gene editing technology.
Another non legal method involving gene editing technology is media engagement. This method involves media outlets telling the population what the legal issue is and from there the population can use another non legal method to inform the government as to what they want as a society. If used correctly media engagement can be an extremely effective non legal method of dealing with an emerging or changing technology.
The australian broadcast corporation (ABC) released an article in april 2019 informing the Australian public about CRISPR and its possibilities as well as its possible side effects and downfalls. This article explains the positive effects that CRISPR is capable of so that the Australian public is aware of the great things a technology like this is able to perform. The ABC then goes on to explain the possible negative effects and their ability to ruin the possible positive intentions if used incorrectly or not controlled with the care that it needs to be treated with.
Media engagement is an important non legal method for informing the public of new technologies. In the case of gene editing technology the ABC has informed the Australian populace of the negative and positive effects that CRISPR may have. Therefore media engagement can be seen to be an effective non legal method in achieving the necessary attention that CRISPR needs so that the public is able to make informed decisions on where they want the new technology to go.
From the above paragraphs it is easy to conclude that Media engagement is effective in its responsiveness as the ABC reported on the topic of gene editing relatively quickly especially considering that the Commonwealth legislation has not been updated in twenty years even considering the release of CRISPR in 2012.
Media engagement however is ineffective in its enforcement as the media is only present to inform the population and has no tangible ability to make people do what they want.
On August 8th 2019 a letter was sent to the Australian health minister concerning GMOs and their potential threat to the Australian food economy. Letters to government are essential for the public to be heard, without corporations and the population informing the government what they want to be done the government has no guide into what they should do when it comes to new technologies and the rules that should surround them.
This conveys the effectiveness letters to government officials have when meeting the needs of society as the people who send letters care about society and what should be done in certain situations and therefore are invested in meeting societies needs.
The letter entailed statistics and logical reasoning as to why the government should not deregulate gene editing methods in Australia. The letter was sent and written by organic industries of Australia limited. The letter had direct requests to the health minister to strengthen existing legislation involving GMOs.
Letters can be seen to be effective in terms of accessibility as any Australian citizen has the ability to send a letter to a government official and therefore every person that has value within Australian politics and society is able to voice their opinion and apply pressure to the government.
In conclusion the Australian government can be seen to have effective methods both legal and non legal, to deal with Gene editing technologies and the rules and laws that should govern them. The legal methods used for dealing with CRISPR hold the most weight in legal terms, but non legal methods have the aptitude for change in terms of the Australian population telling the government what they want to be done with the new technology.