United Kingdom panel says human embryo editing 'morally permissible'

Designer babies? Ethics council approves genetically-edited embryos

G. Lenz Global Look Press

Commenting on the Nuffield Council of Bioethics' review of genome editing, Dr David King, Director of Human Genetics Alert, said: "This is an absolute disgrace".

The Council also said the practice should only be permitted after a "broad and inclusive public debate" on its potential use and implications, further research to establish standards of clinical safety, and an assessment of the risks to individuals, groups and society as a whole.

Genome editing is deliberate alterations of targeted DNA sequencing in a living cell, theoretically it could be used to assist reproduction to alter DNA of a human embryo.

The report does not call for a change in United Kingdom law to permit genetically altered babies.

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics said there is no reason in principle to rule out the now outlawed procedure.

The report concludes that two principles are key to the ethical acceptability of heritable genome editing: securing the "welfare of the future person" who inherits edited DNA, and seeking to ensure that genome editing does not "increase disadvantage, discrimination or division in society".

For nearly two years, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics has run an independent inquiry on "heritable genome editing", which is when scientists modify eggs, sperm, or embryos that will then develop to become a person.

Yeung, a professor of law, ethics, and informatics at the University of Birmingham, told The Guardian that the Nuffield working group saw no issues for now with proper rules that would make such medical work unscrupulous.

'Initially this might involve preventing the inheritance of a specific genetic disorder, however if the technology develops we can see that there is potential for it to become an alternative strategy available to parents for achieving a wider range of goals'.

The possibilities raised by gene editing tools could represent a "radical new approach to reproductive choices".

"There is potential for heritable genome editing interventions to be used at some point in the future in assisted human reproduction, as a means for people to secure certain characteristics in their children", Yeung said in the release. The council said such processes "should not increase disadvantage, discrimination or division in society". Heritable genome editing interventions are made to egg, sperm, embryo cells, or their precursors, that edited DNA sequence would then be present in all cells of any future person grown from those cells, passed on from generation to generation.

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