Gene-Edited Babies Ban: Why Geneticists Discourage Human Experiment

Chinese scientist He Jiankui
Chinese scientist He Jiankui speaks at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong on November 28, 2018. Reports indicated that China is banned from creating gene-edited babies. Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images

Researchers from seven countries are lobbying for a ban on gene-edited babies. They are proposing a ban for the next five years to give way for further debates and tests about the human experiment’s viability in medical research.

Eighteen researchers from seven countries called for a ban on human germline editing which required clinical trials. The voluntary ban was raised by the parties who labeled themselves as ethicists and who referred to editing the genes of babies as an “irresponsible” practice in gene research, Science News first reported.

Signatories Feng Zhang of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard University along with other CRISPR pioneers called for the ban in response to the negative feedback that the experiment received. In two international conferences, the gene editing process was recognized to be unfit as it prohibits people’s normal DNA to be passed to succeeding generations. 

In 2018, two gene-edited babies were born in China for the purpose of protecting them from HIV, according to the BBC. The CRISPR initially allowed scientists to re-engineer the DNA makeup of these babies in hopes of correcting the genes that are responsible for causing diseases in the human body. The scientists used gene-editing technologies to make the transformation possible.

In November 2018, professor Jiankui He, who was responsible for creating the gene-edited babies, admitted that his work may be controversial but believed that his experiment was necessary for families to prevent their children from acquiring the sexually-transmitted disease.

Furthermore, the report also cited previous research that indicated the consequences of the modification of human DNA were unknown. Since the effects of the experiment were recognized to be a permanent condition to the babies, the risk of conducting the same could not be ascertained as a safe procedure.

The researchers then called for scientists who use genetic technology to modify human DNA to provide at least a two-year notice that indicates why the experiment was necessary. They also requested for scientists who conduct the same experiment to justify the process in a broad consensus before their country could permit them to push through with the experiment.

Dr. Francis Collins of the U.S. National Institutes of Health disagrees with the creation of gene-edited babies in China. He claimed that the practice should be banned as it is an unethical and irresponsible manner of conducting scientific research.