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Bioethics Council: Gene-Editing Human Embryos Conditionally OK

The UK-based organization encourages public debate about the issue but does not recommend immediate policy change.

Jul 17, 2018
Shawna Williams

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics, an influential, independent body in the U.K. that provides recommendations on medical and biological questions, released a report today (July 17) suggesting that gene-editing of human embryos should be permissible in some circumstances. UK law currently prohibits making alterations to people that could be passed down to future generations, and the report stops short of recommending an immediate change to that policy, but instead encourages public debate around what regulations should be in place.

“It is our view that genome editing is not morally unacceptable in itself,” Karen Yeung, chair of the working group behind the report and a professor of law, ethics, and informatics at the University of Birmingham, tells The Guardian. “There is no reason to rule it out in principle.”

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The working group recommends that changing embryos’ genes should only be permitted when the intervention would benefit the future child, and when doing so would not run the risk of exacerbating social inequality by conferring genetic advantages on those whose parents could afford it. 

David King of the UK-based advocacy group Human Genetics Alert tells Reuters in an email that the committee had effectively approved of creating “designer babies. . . . We must have an international ban on creating genetically engineered babies.” 

Marcy Darnovsky of the Center for Genetics and Society also took a dim view of the report, telling The Guardian, “In practical terms, they have thrown down a red carpet for unrestricted use of inheritable genetic engineering, and a gilded age in which some are treated as genetic ‘haves’ and the rest of us as ‘have-nots.’” 

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