Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Call for a Moratorium on Human Genome Editing

By AusSMC

Scientists and ethicists from seven countries have called for a global moratorium on all clinical uses of human germline editing. The suggested moratorium would not hamper research or editing of non-germline cells, but would set a period that no clinical use of editing sperm, eggs or embryos would be allowed.

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Source document: https://go.nature.com/2O3UevL


“In the light of the recent CRISPR baby scandal driven by the actions of the Chinese scientist Dr He, this is a wise move. Arguably, this should have been in place a few years ago when it became clear that editing viable embryos was possible. There is no law to prevent germline editing in China although guidelines prohibit it. Therefore, even though many prominent international scientists were aware of Dr He’s work, they were unclear if they should blow the whistle on the rogue scientist, and if so, to whom.

A governance framework around this issue would provide much needed clarity. Would it have prevented Dr He from carrying out his ill-informed experiments? Perhaps not in light of the fact that Dr He allegedly recruited patients using coercion, forged documents and swapped blood samples to achieve his goals – each of these suggest extreme unscrupulous behaviour.

Will it hamper research and use in the clinic? No – the moratorium will not apply to germline editing for research purposes or to the editing of somatic cells.

The call to limit the clinical use of germline editing is proposed for a fixed and limited time of perhaps 5 years. This is warranted as many technical issues still need to be resolved to allow...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.