Genome editing and human reproduction: social and ethical issues


Published 17/07/2018

GEHR report cover
Baby foot

In July 2018, we published a report into the social and ethical issues raised by the use of genome editing as a technology that could influence inherited characteristics in humans.

The potential development of genome editing applications in human reproduction was one of the areas identified as requiring urgent ethical scrutiny in our 2016 report Genome editing: an ethical review.

The report sets out the range of ethical issues that arise in relation to the prospect of genome editing becoming available as a reproductive option for prospective parents.

The report recommends that two overarching principles should guide the use of ‘heritable genome editing interventions’ for them be ethically acceptable:

  • 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.

It further recommend that heritable genome editing interventions should be permitted only when:

  • there has been a sufficient opportunity for broad and inclusive public debate about its use and possible implications;
  • further research has been carried out to establish standards of clinical safety; and
  • the risks of adverse effects for individuals, groups and society as a whole have been appropriately assessed and measures are in place to monitor and review these

It adds that, if it were to be permitted, it should be:

  • strictly regulated (by the HFEA in the UK);
  • introduced only in the context of a clinical study, with monitoring of the long-term effects on individuals and groups; and
  • licensed on a case-by-case basis.