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White House says gene editing needs further study

By David Prentice, PhD | June 04, 2015

Excerpted from White House says gene editing needs further study,” Reuters. May 26, 2015 — The White House said on Tuesday the ethical issues associated with gene-editing on the human genome need further study by the scientific community and should not be pursued until issues are resolved.

"The administration believes that altering the human germline for clinical purposes is a line that should not be crossed at this time," John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said in a statement.

The technology, which has the potential to create "designer babies," ignited an outcry from scientists last month when it was used in China to alter the DNA of human embryos.

"Research along these lines raises serious and urgent questions about the potential implications for clinical applications that could lead to genetically altered humans," Holdren said in the statement on the White House website. “The full implications of such a step could not be known until a number of generations had inherited the genetic changes made - and choices made in one country could affect all of us," he said.

The National Academy of Sciences said last week it would convene an international summit this fall to explore the ethical and policy issues associated with the research and appoint an international committee to recommend guidelines for the technology.


Commentary

Dr. David PrenticeCMDA Member and Research Director at Charlotte Lozier Institute David Prentice, PhD: “While it’s initially encouraging that the White House wants to halt experiments to manipulate the DNA of human embryos, the operative phrase they use is ‘a line that should not be crossed at this time.’ This suggests that such alteration of the human genome would be acceptable in the future, given adequate rationale. We must remember that what is being discussed is ‘germline genetic engineering,’ meaning genetic alteration that is passed in the germline and affects not only that individual but also future generations.

“The U.K. has already approved a form of genetic engineering, in the creation and gestation of ‘three-parent embryos,’ who are created to contain mitochondrial DNA from a second mother. The U.S. FDA and the Institute on Medicine are currently debating the ethics of this type of human genetic engineering, but the FDA already has received several applications for approval of the technique in fertility clinics. It’s a short step to engineered nuclear DNA and genetically-modified human embryos.

“Ignored in the debate are those already suffering from diseases. Rather than consider treatments, proponents are simply advocating for eugenics. There are no actual proposed treatments, but instead the creation of new individuals who, it is hoped, will not have the disease. These creators are working from a basis of hubris, not love, and are not held to any standard but their own. We should remind ourselves that we are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made,’ and foreswear altering the human genome.”

Resources

From Darwin to the Human Genome - Dr. John Patrick
CMDA’s Human Enhancement Ethics Statement
Eugenics and Enhancement Ethics Statement

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