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Scientists and Ethicists Call for Moratorium on Genome Editing


Heritable genome editing is said to be too unpredictable, unsafe and unnecessary.


Image/Thumbnail have been modified. Courtesy of Futurism.

Gene editing can spark ethical concerns. And now, scientists and ethicists from seven countries have issued a call for a strict global moratorium on heritable genome editing in sperm, eggs and embryos, according to an article written in Nature.

The leaders, including Eric Lander, president and founding director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard University, and Françoise Baylis, research professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Can., called for the establishment of an international framework. Nations would voluntarily commit to not approve any use of clinical germline editing unless certain conditions are met.

During the establishment of the international framework, the leaders wrote that there should be a fixed period when no clinical uses of germline editing are allowed. That period would also allow for discussions about the technical, scientific, medical, societal, ethical and moral issues that need to be considered before germline editing is permitted.

In the proposed framework, a nation could choose to allow a particular application if it provides a period of public notice of its intent to consider permitting the application and weighs the pros and cons. Then, the moral, ethical and medical issues must be justified. Finally, there would need to be a broad societal consensus in the nation on whether to proceed with human germline editing at all, and on the appropriateness of the proposed application.

“What we hope this call will achieve, in line with the authors’ stated intent, is to ensure the conditions for fair, meaningful, broadly inclusive and unrushed discussions of whether heritable genome editing should be permitted to proceed in countries where it is not already prohibited,” said Marcy Darnovsky, Ph.D., executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society.

The proposed moratorium, which includes 18 signatories from seven countries — the U.S., Canada, China, New Zealand, Italy, France and Germany — would not apply to germline editing for research uses or to genome editing in human somatic cells to treat diseases.

Currently, about 30 nations have legislation that directly or indirectly bars all clinical uses of germline editing, and they could continue the moratorium indefinitely or implement a permanent ban.

Heritable genome editing is said to be too unpredictable, unsafe and unnecessary.

“We are confident that, if all the safety, social and ethical concerns are fully aired and adequately and honestly weighed, it will become clear that a global agreement to forgo heritable genome editing is the proper course,” Darnovsky said.

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