Genetically Modified Babies Move A Step Closer To Reality In The UK

Creating 'designer babies' to enhance looks or intelligence could be 'morally permissible'

Experts from the UK's Nuffield Council on Bioethics said that while the law should not now be changed to allow human genome editing to correct genetic faults in offspring, future legislation permitting it should not be ruled out. Now, the inquiry gives a tentative green light to such enterprises as long as several conditions are met. 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 worldwide bans on eugenic genetic engineering. The council said such processes "should not increase disadvantage, discrimination or division in society". These are the overarching principles.

"We recommend that before any move is made to amend United Kingdom legislation to permit heritable genome editing interventions, there should be sufficient opportunity for broad and inclusive societal debate", the report said. 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. The report itself suggests that an independent body be formed to promote such a debate. They could, in theory, be used in assisted human reproduction to edit the DNA of an embryo before it is transferred to the womb.

The report's authors recognize the potential for "unintended consequences" should the laws change. It wants to get ahead of the curve and have ideas already in place for if and when things might become legal.

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'Initially, this might involve preventing the inheritance of a specific genetic disorder.

"Huge advances are happening in genomics research, and whilst we have to acknowledge that genes alone do not shape a person, the possibility of using genome editing in reproduction to secure or avoid a characteristic in a child offers a radically new approach that is likely to appeal to some prospective parents", Professor Dave Archard, chair of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics. "However, if the technology develops it has potential to become an alternative strategy available to parents for achieving a wider range of goals". If the law were to ever change, genome editing should be strictly regulated, it added. The most popular tool used for genome editing, Crispr-Cas9, caused more damage to DNA than the British scientists previously believed.

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