UK Ethics Body Approves Genetically Modifying Babies if in Child's Best Interest

LifestyleHealth Editing human embryos ‘morally permissible’
Posted By christinemuchira

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics said in its report that changing the DNA of a human embryo should be allowed if it were meant to give the future child what parents perceive to be the best chances in life, The Guardian reported.

Three further conditions are stipulated in the report: "broad and inclusive" public debate about the use and implications of the technology, establishing clinical safety, and ensuring that adverse consequences for all levels of society are suitably assessed, monitored and mitigated. They could, in theory, be used in assisted human reproduction to edit the DNA of an embryo before it is transferred to the womb.

Prof Karen Yeung, chairwoman of the council's working party, said: 'We have concluded that heritable genome editing could be morally acceptable.

The report does not list any specific uses for DNA modification but instead says it must follow certain principles to be considered ethical.

Genome editing involves changing the DNA in an embryo - cutting out and replacing parts of the genetic code.

But arguably, the most controversial aspect of gene editing concerns the potential to introduce changes to the germline - DNA alterations that would pass down the generations.

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Genetically modifying babies to influence the characteristics of future generations "could be ethically acceptable", the council ruled, if two principles are satisfied.

The technique could be used to "edit out" genetic illnesses, or predispositions to deadly cancers, but the Nuffield Council did not rule out other uses, even cosmetic ones. "However, if the technology develops it has potential to become an alternative strategy available to parents for achieving a wider range of goals".

The Guardian said that in a new study, released on Monday in the journal Nature Biotechnology, British researchers found that Crispr-Cas9, the most popular genome editing tool, caused more damage to DNA than originally believed.

The first is that such interventions must be consistent with "the welfare of a person who may be born as a outcome", and second, they must "uphold principles of social justice and solidarity", meaning that they do not "produce or exacerbate social division, or marginalise or disadvantage groups in society".

The report also put in place some immediate limitations if the law were to be changed in the United Kingdom: it needs to be strictly regulated, licensed on a case-by-case basis, and introduced in the context of a clinical study, with the ability to monitor for long-term effects.

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