United Kingdom ethics body says gene-edited babies may be 'morally permissible'

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"Our view is that the two guiding principles that condition the ethical acceptability of genome editing in the context of reproduction should orient ethical evaluation and are applicable to the full range of potential motivations for wishing to undertake such interventions", they assert.

It proposed that for gene editing techniques in human reproduction to be ethically acceptable, two overarching principles should guide their use - that they should be meant to secure the welfare of the future person, and should not increase disadvantage, discrimination or division in society.

George Church, a Harvard University geneticist, who was not involved in the report, told The Guardian that he agreed with the report that editing DNA "should not be expected to increase disadvantage, discrimination, or division in society", but that making changes to some genes could save some babies from painful diseases.

Even with that in mind, there are more requirements. Additionally, we'll need to assess any potential risks to individuals, groups, or society in general, and figure out a system for monitoring and addressing any unforeseen adverse affects as they may crop up. It will also have to be after a broad and inclusive public debate over the (likely) controversial issue.

The council suggested that an independent body or commission be set up in the United Kingdom to lead the debate on the topic and contribute to the development of national and worldwide guidelines.

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Not all countries permit research on human embryos, or have laws that permit genome editing intervention on embryos to be placed in a womb, these laws would need to be changed to allow use of genome editing of embryos, eggs, or sperm for reproduction.

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

'Initially, this might involve preventing the inheritance of a specific genetic disorder. If the law were to ever change, genome editing should be strictly regulated, it added.

Marcy Darnovsky at the Center for Genetics and Society in California said, however, that the report opens the door to gene editing for enhancement and cosmetic purposes, something generally considered ethically problematic.

A recent study by scientists at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, suggests the CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing can cause greater genetic damage in cells than previously thought, and advised gene therapy scientists to proceed "with caution".

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