A deliberative public engagement study on heritable human genome editing among South Africans: Study results

PLoS One. 2022 Nov 28;17(11):e0275372. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0275372. eCollection 2022.


This paper reports the results of a public engagement study on heritable human genome editing (HHGE) carried out in South Africa, which was conducted in accordance with a study protocol that was published in this journal in 2021. This study is novel as it is the first public engagement study on HHGE in Africa. It used a deliberative public engagement (DPE) methodology, entailing inter alia that measures were put in place to ensure that potential participants became informed about HHGE, and that deliberations between the participants were facilitated with the aim of seeking consensus. A diverse group of 30 persons was selected to participate in the DPE study, which took place via Zoom over three consecutive weekday evenings. The main results are: Provided that HHGE is safe and effective, an overwhelming majority of participants supported allowing the use of HHGE to prevent genetic health conditions and for immunity against TB and HIV/Aids, while significant majorities opposed allowing HHGE for enhancement. The dominant paradigm during the deliberations was balancing health benefits (and associated improvements in quality of life) with unforeseen health risks (such as loss of natural immunity). The seriousness of a health condition emerged as the determining factor for the policy choice of whether to allow an application of HHGE. More generally, equal access to HHGE qua healthcare service featured as an important value, and it was uncontested that the South African government should allocate resources to promote scientific research into HHGE. These results are aligned with the policy principles for regulating HHGE in South Africa suggested by Thaldar et al. They call for urgent revision of South African ethics guidelines that currently prohibit research on HHGE, and for dedicated HHGE legal regulations that provide a clear and comprehensive legal pathway for researchers who intend to conduct HHGE research and clinical trials.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Black People / genetics
  • Gene Editing*
  • Genome, Human
  • Humans
  • Quality of Life*
  • South Africa

Grants and funding

This study was supported by the African Health Research Flagship and the College of Law and Management Studies, University of KwaZulu-Natal, and by the South African National Research Foundation, in the form of a grant [116275], to DT. The funders did not play a role in the study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.