Published: Thu, July 19, 2018
Medical | By

Designer babies could be approved in future, says medical ethics panel

Designer babies could be approved in future, says medical ethics panel

An independent ethics panel in the United Kingdom has concluded that genome editing to influence the characteristics of a future person could be "morally permissible".

In other words, the report suggests that human genome editing for the goal of genetic improvement, and not only the avoidance of disease, may be morally acceptable, an affirmation that can not help raising the specter of eugenics and designer babies. The development of advanced genome technology has given scientists the ability to rewrite the DNA code in eggs, sperm, and embryos.

The possibilities raised by gene editing tools could represent a "radical new approach to reproductive choices", the Council said in a report and could have significant implications for individuals and for society.

So, does this mean it's legal in the UK?

Genetically modifying babies to influence the characteristics of future generations "could be ethically acceptable", the council ruled, if two principles are satisfied.

It's also not yet proven to be safe. Research published this week in Nature Biotechnology showed how one of these techniques known as CRISPR can damage DNA unrelated to the gene editing. It's possible that editing faulty genes could disrupt healthy ones, according to The Guardian.

The report's authors recognize the potential for "unintended consequences" should the laws change.

"It is our view that genome editing is not morally unacceptable in itself", said Karen Yeung, who headed the inquiry committee.

"In practical terms, they have thrown down a red carpet for unrestricted use of inheritable genetic engineering, and a gilded age in which some are treated as genetic "haves" and the rest of us as 'have-nots, '" she said.

The Guardian reports that Jackie Leach Scully, professor of social ethics and bioethics at Newcastle University and a co-author on the report, warns that while the technology could potentially reduce the number of people affected by certain genetic disorders, it could leave those with the diseases feeling more marginalized and with less medical support.

So, while it may still be years before anyone gives birth to a "designer baby", the mere fact that editing human embryos is getting the ethical green light from the NCB is a promising sign for anyone eager for the day gene-editing lets them create the offspring of their dreams.

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