A statement, published in Nature by scientists and ethicists from 7 countries, called for a global moratorium on “all clinical uses of human germline editing,” and the creation of an international governance framework in which decisions related to human germline editing are considered.1
This statement followed recent reports of the birth of at least 2 babies from germline-edited embryos in China.
Although the authors of the paper distinguished human germline editing for the purpose of genetic correction (ie, “editing a rare mutation that has a high probability (penetrance) of causing a severe single-gene disease, with the aim of converting the mutation into the DNA sequence carried by most people”) from genetic enhancement (ie, “much broader efforts to ‘improve’ individuals and the species”), they stated that “clinical germline editing should not proceed for any application without broad societal consensus on the appropriateness of altering a fundamental aspect of humanity for a particular purpose.”
Specifically, the authors proposed the following: 1
- Participation of governments in a ban on human germline editing for a fixed period of time (eg, 5 years)
- Creation of an international “coordinating body” (possibly through the World Health Organization [WHO] that is composed of individuals from diverse interests, not just members of the medical and scientific communities), to “provide nations with clear, comprehensive and objective information about relevant issues”
- Following the moratorium, the voluntary agreement of nations to allow a particular application of clinical germline testing only if they:
- “Provide a period of public notice of its intent to consider permitting the application” and “engage in robust international discussion about the pros and cons of doing so”
- “Determine through careful and transparent evaluation of both the technical, scientific and medical considerations, and the societal, ethical and moral issues” that the application is justified
- “Determine that there is broad societal consensus in the nation on whether to proceed with human germline editing at all, and on the appropriateness of the proposed application”
The authors of this statement clarified that the proposed moratorium does not apply to germline editing for research uses that do not involve transfer of an embryo to a person’s uterus or to germline editing of somatic (nonreproductive) cells for the treatment of diseases.1
The National Institutes of Health has issued a statement in support of the proposed moratorium on human germline editing and the associated international governance framework.2
- Lander ES, Baylis F, Zhang F, et al. Adopt a moratorium on heritable genome editing. Nature. 2019;567:165-168.
- Wolinetz CD, Collins FS. NIH supports call for moratorium on clinical uses of germline gene editing. Nature. 2019;567:175.