Today, the media has reported that gene-edited babies have been born in China. If these reports are true, this is deeply concerning. The possibilities raised by heritable genome editing could have significant implications for individuals and for all of society. We do not know enough about the safety of these procedures or welfare implications. It’s crucial that action is taken now to support research on safety, facilitate public debate, and put in place appropriate governance.
In July, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics published a report on the ethical and social issues raised by heritable genome editing interventions. We concluded that their use could be morally permissible in some circumstances. These circumstances do not, however, exist at present, anywhere. In our report we have discussed what these circumstances might be, but it is now for the wider society to agree them, and to define what governance measures should apply.
We recommended that any use of genome editing interventions should be guided by two overarching principles: they must be intended to secure, and be consistent with, the welfare of the future person; and they should not increase disadvantage, discrimination or division in society. More work needs to be done to establish whether these principles can be met. Pete Mills, Assistant Director, added: “Coming on the eve of the second international summit on genome editing, this announcement looks like a cynical attempt to seize headlines. If the claims are true, it is a premature, inexplicable and possibly reckless intervention that may threaten the responsible development of future applications of genome editing.”