Heritable genome editing could be acceptable, says leading ethics body

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

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

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics said in its report that changing the DNA of a human embryo should be allowed if it were meant to give the future child what parents perceive to be the best chances in life, The Guardian reported. It is now becoming possible to alter DNA in a human embryo, potentially correcting genetic diseases.

"There is no reason to rule it out in principle", she said. While there may be good reasons for allowing use of the technology, uses need to be careful not to increase social disadvantage, discrimination or division, and close attention must be paid to the welfare of any involved, especially the child to be born.

Some fear heritable genome editing could lead to stigmatisation of disabled people, with fewer suffering from certain conditions, and that there may be less investment in research and support services. However, it urges research into the safety and effectiveness of the approach, its societal impact, and a widespread debate of its implications.

Nevertheless, the science behind it is far from ideal, and in some cases has proven unsafe and problematic.

On Tuesday, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics (NCB), an independent United Kingdom -based organization that analyzes and reports on ethical issues in biology and medicine, released a report focused on the social and ethical issues surrounding human genome editing and reproduction.

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"The point is to have a way of progressing responsibly, so the pathway towards it is one that is a responsible way forward".

As an independent body examining the ethical questions posed by new medical technologies, the council urged similar institutions in Europe, the USA, and China to engage in the debate.

'Whilst there is still uncertainty over the sorts of things genome editing might be able to achieve, or how widely its use might spread, we have concluded that the potential use of genome editing to influence the characteristics of future generations is not unacceptable in itself'.

The report concludes that two principles are key to the ethical acceptability of heritable genome editing: securing the "welfare of the future person" who inherits edited DNA, and seeking to ensure that genome editing does not "increase disadvantage, discrimination or division in society".

'Initially this might involve preventing the inheritance of a specific genetic disorder, however if the technology develops we can see that there is potential for it to become an alternative strategy available to parents for achieving a wider range of goals'.

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