Based Think Tank Says Editing Human Embryos Is ‘Morally Permissible’

Designer babies? Ethics council approves genetically-edited embryos

G. Lenz Global Look Press

The Nuffield Council of Bioethics, an independent charitable body investigating the ethics of certain biological and medical developments, said in a report that while it does not support overhauling current legislation so that embryo gene editing can be carried out, it does not mean the United Kingdom should fall short of doing so in the future.

British law bans this at the moment, but the Nuffield panel of experts said it could, in time, become available as an option for parents wanting to influence the genetic characteristics of their future child - for example, to "edit out" a heritable disease or a predisposition to cancer in later life.

The possibilities raised by gene editing tools could represent a "radical new approach to reproductive choices", the Council said in a report and could have significant implications for individuals and for society.

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics said there is no reason in principle to rule out the now outlawed procedure.

"It is our view that genome editing is not morally unacceptable in itself", said Karen Yeung, chair of the Nuffield working group and professor of law, ethics, and informatics at the University of Birmingham, according to The Guardian.

Even though the report called for additional research before any laws could be changed, it drew swift criticism from others, including one lobbying group accusing the authors of opening the door to the unrestricted use of heritable genetic engineering, The Guardian said.

Additionally, changes made to an embryo's DNA means that all of its cells would be affected and passed down to future generations.

Now there are reproductive options available to prospective parents facing possibility of passing on inherited genetic disorders that genome editing may be used alongside with such as pre-implantation genetic diagnosis which involves testing embryos for genetic characteristics and selecting one (s) with preferred sets of characteristics.

Commenting on the council's review of genome editing, Dr David King, Director of Human Genetics Alert, described its findings as "an absolute disgrace", noting decades-long global bans on eugenic genetic engineering. As this technology continues to develop and advance it does in fact have the potential to become an alternative strategy for parents to achieve a wider range of goals.

Genetically modifying babies to influence the characteristics of future generations "could be ethically acceptable", the council ruled, if two principles are satisfied.

The council's report recommends any interventions must be in the interests of the social, physical and psychological welfare of the future person, and "should not increase disadvantage, discrimination or division in society".

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