The UK’s Nuffield Council on Bioethics says it’s acceptable to genetically engineer human embryos, so long as the interventions aren’t harmful to the future child or society as a whole.
Six years ago, the council approved a controversial fertility treatment requiring three genetic parents, an intervention designed to eliminate debilitating mitochondrial diseases.
In its new report, “Genome Editing and Human Reproduction: Social and Ethical Issues,” the Nuffield Council has concluded that it is “morally permissible” to edit the DNA of a human embryo, sperm, or egg to alter a future person’s characteristics, such as eliminating heritable diseases.
Importantly, however, the council did not rule out non-therapeutic applications, such as cosmetic tweaks and enhancements, so long as the interventions are in the best interests of the future baby and the new characteristics don’t “increase disadvantage, discrimination, or division in society,” in the words of the researchers.
“There is potential for heritable genome editing interventions to be used at some point in the future in assisted human reproduction, as a means for people to secure certain characteristics in their children,” said Karen Yeung, the chair of the Nuffield Council working party, in a statement.
Back in 2015, scientists in China became the first to genetically modify a human embryo, but the embryo was destroyed shortly after the experiment.