Regulating Genetic Advantage


  • Sarah Polcz
  • Anna Lewis
Publish Date:
Publication Title:
Harvard Journal of Law & Technology
Journal Article
  • Sarah Polcz & Anna Lewis, Regulating Genetic Advantage, 32 Harvard Journal of Law & Technology 265 (2019).


The regulation of genetic modification is generating urgent international debate. Development of new technologies means not only new therapies, but new possibilities for enhancement. The only area with existing regulation concerning genetic enhancement is sports, where adoption is seen as imminent. “Gene doping” is banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), and enforced at considerable cost, on the basis that biological innateness is essential to what is valuable in sports. As both the first and a highly visible mover, WADA’s ban is set to disproportionately affect other domains. We present a normative analysis of current regulation and the first experimental study (n=1000) on US attitudes towards gene doping. Through a series of ten scenarios, we find respondents view gene doping as fundamentally different than other forms of enhancement: 79% support allowing athletes modified to have an advantage competing alongside those born with that advantage; 54% support allowing modified athletes to compete alongside unmodified athletes; 34% endorse creating a separate competitive category. This leaves only a small minority supportive of an outright ban. These results are inconsistent with the protection of biological innateness. WADA need to acknowledge that genetic modification calls into question the foundations of their prohibition decisions. Our results are consistent both with increasing acceptance of genetic modification, and with theoretical and empirical work that equality of opportunity is best achieved through minimizing the role of luck. In this view, genetic modification is a tool to reduce the inequities of the natural lottery. The development of regulation in other areas should proceed with this in mind.