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A case against a moratorium on germline gene editing

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SHOULD researchers put the brakes on genetically engineering babies?

Leading scientists and ethicists recently called for a moratorium on clinical applications of germline gene editing: inheritable alterations to the DNA of embryos to improve kids’ health or other features – or just “gene editing,” for short.

This declaration was prompted in part by the birth last year of the first gene-edited babies in China. The birth was roundly condemned by experts and may result in charges against He Jiankui, the lead scientist involved.

The call for a moratorium is grounded in two main concerns. Its supporters assert, first, that the risks of gene editing are simply too uncertain and potentially large to proceed. Secondly, the deeply controversial nature and potential social impact of altering human DNA means researchers need “broad societal consensus” before proceeding.

SEE ALSO: What we risk as humans if we allow gene-edited babies

The authors suggest a five-year pause to wait for more scientific progress and public dialogue. At that point, the authors propose, societies may choose to begin a path forward for gene editing, if risks are deemed acceptable and the process is fully transparent.

However, several scientists have pushed back against the call for a moratorium, including gene-editing pioneer Jennifer Doudna and geneticist George Church. As a biomedical ethicist, I believe the objectors raise valid concerns about the relevance and usefulness of a moratorium that are worth reflecting upon.

Plenty everyone agrees on

To be sure, those for and against a moratorium actually agree on some key points.

Almost no one thinks the world is ready for clinical trials today, as more basic science is needed to minimize risks like........

© Asian Correspondent