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Posted on May 23, 2019 at 9:43 PM

Recently, it was reported
that the panel convened by the World Health Organization (WHO) to develop standards
and guidelines for gene editing will ask the WHO to establish a registry for
any projects on heritable human gene editing. 
The idea is that, to get research funding, a project would have to be
registered, and there would be a required review in order to get on the
registry in the first place.  The net
effect would be to control the flow of money to such projects.

Also, according
to Nature
, the Chinese government
is looking at amending its civil code, effective March 2020, to in essence make
a gene editor liable for health outcomes by declaring that “experiments on genes in adults or embryos that endanger
human health or violate ethical norms can accordingly be seen as a violation of
a person’s fundamental rights.”  The
idea here appears to be to make gene editors think twice about whether they are
sure enough of their work to accept essentially a permanent risk of being sued
for all they are worth if anything goes wrong in the future.  Your correspondent knows nothing about Chinese
civil procedure, but in the litigious U.S., the risk of really big, unpredictable
lawsuits at some entirely unpredictable time in the future, with no limit, can
make even big companies shy to pursue something. 

So maybe these approaches, by “following the
money,” as it were, would at least slow down heritable genome editing,
short of a ban.  Skeptics of the utility
or wisdom of a ban argue that the “rogues” will just find
work-arounds anyway, and that entire states can “go rogue,” limiting
the effects of the ban to only the nations willing to enact and enforce it.

That’s a reasonable argument, but it still seems that, by only requiring a registry—with noncompliance always a risk—or trying to up the ante in court—a risk that some entities might take if the perceived reward is big enough to warrant it, and they can hire enough expansive lawyers to limit the risk—there is an admission that heritable genome editing is going to go forward.  And, indeed, maybe there’s no stopping it.  But it seems like promoting a stance toward human life that refuses to accept heritable gene editing is still something we should do.

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