A renowned U.K. ethics council has deemed that gene editing the DNA of unborn babies is not unethical.
For years, gene editing the DNA of humans has raised significant ethical issues within the scientific community and the public. In fact, a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2016 revealed that 50 percent of Americans would not want their children’s genes to be edited.
While gene editing technology is considered promising, the issues surrounding its procedure, application, and outcome are hindering scientists from further exploring its full potential.
However, things might just change in the near future – at least in the United Kingdom – as a leading bioethics organization said that altering the DNAs of babies is not unethical.
The technology, which involves enhancing or altering the DNA of humans, was primarily created to cure genetic disorders by removing defective parts of genes. It is a groundbreaking medical innovation that could potentially eliminate life-threatening diseases not just in adults but even in unborn children.
But, this gene-editing technique could also allow scientists to choose the traits of an unborn child, which is something that many scientists and religious groups are against.
However, a report from the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, an independent organization that evaluates many ethical questions in the fields of biology and medicine, said that modifying human embryos could have permissible reasons after all. Meaning, it could be ethically acceptable under certain circumstances, even if it would be done not just to eliminate diseases.
The council claims that editing the human genome to select the traits of future children has now become a ‘real and distinct possibility.’
“The central question which this Report sets out to address is whether such interventions would be ethically acceptable,” the council wrote on their report.
“Our conclusion is that interventions of this kind to influence the characteristics of future generations could be ethically acceptable, provided if, and only if, two principles are satisfied: first, that such interventions are intended to secure, and are consistent with, the welfare of a person who may be born as a consequence, and second, that any such interventions would uphold principles of social justice and solidarity – by this we mean that such interventions should not produce or exacerbate social division, or marginalise or disadvantaged groups in society.”
Many researchers today believe that they would be able to get around the accuracy problems associated with gene editing and that someday, successful human DNA editing would become a reality. In fact, a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Alberta details how they could improve the accuracy of CRISPR/Cas9.
The ethical council also said that an ethical framework for gene editing the DNA of babies, or adults, must be put in place. The authors concluded that editing human embryos “would only be ethically acceptable if carried out in accordance with principles of social justice and solidarity.”