The illusion of control in germline-engineering policy

The arrival and rapid adoption of the clustered, regularly interspaced, short palindromic repeats (CRISPR)–CRISPR-associated protein 9 (Cas9) system1 has sparked ethical and societal controversy around genome editing of the human germline. Here, I point out the fallacy that such technologies and their applications can be globally prohibited on the basis of universal ethics and bans—the so-called 'illusion of control'. A look at previous technological developments suggests instead that differentiated and multi-faceted approaches that take into account the broadest range of possible ethical and social issues would be preferable for the oversight of CRISPR–Cas9 germline engineering. Such an approach would not only be more effective but also ensure that society has the greatest chance of capitalizing on potential opportunities of the technology.