A Global Call to Ban the Creation of Gene-Edited Babies
Stung by a rogue scientist’s actions, experts want a moratorium on using CRISPR for germline editing
Last November, Chinese scientist He Jiankui shocked the world when he revealed that he had used the gene-editing tool CRISPR to modify human embryos during in vitro fertilization, resulting in the birth of twin girls with edited genomes. It was the first known time CRISPR had been used in this way.
Now, scientists and ethicists from seven countries are calling for a worldwide moratorium that would temporarily ban the editing of human eggs, sperm, or embryos — known as germline editing — with the purpose of making genetically-modified children.
The proposal, which appears March 13 in the major scientific journal Nature, endorses “an initial period of fixed duration during which no clinical uses of germline editing whatsoever should be allowed.” The authors suggest that five years might be appropriate. After that, any nation could choose whether to permit specific applications of gene-editing on viable embryos intended to cause a pregnancy. Countries would then be able to approve applications that meet certain conditions, including giving public notice of the planned experiment to make sure there is what the authors term a “broad societal consensus” about the appropriateness of the experiment.
“The governance framework we are calling for will place major speed bumps in front of the most adventurous plans to reengineer the human species,” write the authors, which include two of CRISPR’s inventors, Feng Zhang, of the Broad Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, and Emmanuelle Charpentier, director of the Max Planck Institute of Infection Biology in Berlin. (Another one of CRISPR’s inventors, Jennifer Doudna of the University of California, Berkeley, has condemned He’s actions but isn’t one of the signatories on the proposed moratorium, though she called for a pause on such work back in 2015.)
“Now is the time to pull out the regulatory equivalent of a taser.”
The proposal asks governments to make a voluntary pledge, rather than a formal treaty that would be…