The long-awaited report from American Medicine and Science Academies on genome editing was published on Wednesday. Although it calls for a degree of caution in human genome handling, it does not prohibit changes affecting the germ line. It paves the way “for changes in human genomes to combat genetic diseases subject to stringent monitoring” whereas, in December 2015, experts meeting in Washington deemed these practices “irresponsible”.
“Genome editing”, made accessible through the CRISPR tool, “is already transforming research”, but raises considerable ethical questions regarding changes in gametes and human embryos. “Although scientists are learning to amend the genetic code safely”, the report states that “germ editing could be used to treat serious diseases if no alternatives are available”.
“Caution is vital but being cautious does not infer that bans are required,” explained bioethicist, R. Alta Charo from Wisconsin-Madison University. He continued by explaining that “the committee does not state whether we should or shouldn’t carry out genome editing, which would modify the germ line. We are simply saying that we can identify a series of strict conditions that would facilitate this“. He has nevertheless tempered his words by announcing that, “we are a long way, a very long way, in fact, from trying this”. Amongst the “strict conditions” mentioned, genome editing “should not go beyond the treatment of serious diseases”, i.e. it should not be used to create “designer babies”.
This report is considered “a step towards the creation of international standards for the responsible development of this technology”. Although it has been welcomed by some scientists, Marcy Darnovsky at the Center for Genetics and Society referred to it as “worrying” and “deceptive”, because it “is a green light for continuing attempts to modify the human germ line” (see CRISPR: “We get used to everything, including the threat of transgression”).
Reuters, Julie Steenhuysen (14/02/2017); Phys.org, Lauran Neergaard (14/02/2017)
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