Is 'editing’ human embryos ethical?

Genetic manipulation of sperms and eggs can create inheritable changes, opening up an array of ethical, legal and health concerns.  

In a strongly worded comment published last week in Nature, a group of scientists has raised ethical and safety concerns over genetically editing human embryos. They hint that the method has the potential to create that eugenically worrisome concept of the designer baby using specific genes for greater intelligence or specific physical attributes such as blue eyes.

Voluntary moratorium

The scientists — representing bioscience institutes in the U.S. — have called for a “voluntary moratorium” in the scientific community to discourage such research, in their comment titled “Don’t edit the human germ line.” This could have unpredictable effects on future generations, they add.

Genome-editing technology does offer promising tools to correct disease-genes by snipping away harmful mutations to possibly treat human diseases such as HIV/AIDS, haemophilia, sickle-cell anaemia and forms of cancer, says the paper. But when genetic manipulation targets sperms and eggs (the germ line), the changes can be inherited, opening up an array of ethical, legal and health concerns. Such research, moreover, “could be exploited for non-therapeutic modifications,” they say.

Scientists “should agree not to modify the DNA of human reproductive cells” and “a voluntary moratorium in the scientific community could be an effective way to discourage human germline modification.” Using genome-editing to manipulate germ cells, could undermine genetic interventions to treat serious debilitating diseases, the paper says.

The comment speaks of soon-to-be-published studies on modifying the DNA of human embryos and refers to an article titled “Engineering the perfect baby,” published in the MIT Technology Review. The article speaks of several labs around the world researching on genetically editing embryos and altering human heredity. “The objective of these groups is to demonstrate that it’s possible to produce children free of specific genes that cause inherited disease,” the article said.

These concerns come, significantly, from scientists associated with the Alliance for Regenerative Medicine in (Washington DC) an international organisation of more than 200 life-sciences companies, research institutions, non-profit organizations and patient-advocacy groups “focused on developing and commercialising therapeutics, including those involving genome editing.”

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Printable version | Oct 24, 2021 12:54:20 PM |

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