The World Health Organization (WHO) has today published the findings of its Expert Advisory Committee on Developing Global Standards for Governance and Oversight of Human Genome Editing.

These are contained in three reports Human genome editing: position paper, Human genome editing: a framework for governance and Human genome editing: recommendations.

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics welcomes the framework and recommendations as an authoritative, thoughtful, and important contribution to the international conversation on the governance of human genome editing. We welcome, especially, the confirmation of the WHO Director-General’s earlier statement that now is not the time for adventures into heritable human genome editing.

These much-anticipated publications contain a general framework for the governance of human genome editing technologies to treat existing patients, in research, and in reproduction. Echoing two key themes from our own work on the ethics of human heritable genome editing, the WHO emphasise the importance of multilevel engagement, and the clear need for coordinated international action to secure responsible governance.

Dr Peter Mills, Assistant Director of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics said:

“Some of the practical recommendations such as a registry of basic and translational research, and the need for a coordinated and receptive approach to whistleblowing, are much needed. The question is whether these or, indeed, any mechanisms that can be envisaged, are enough to secure ethical and equitable development and deployment of human genome editing, especially heritable, reproductive applications.

The greatest value in the report may lie not so much in the specific measures or the general framework proposed but in the engagement of the WHO with the continuing international discourse on the governance of human genome editing, and the important inflection it gives to this in the direction of internationally coordinated action.”

Related links:

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics report 'Genome editing and human reproduction: ethical issues'

Read the joint statement of Ethics Councils from France, Germany and the United Kingdom on the Ethics of Human Heritable Genome Editing.