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Embryonic gene editing and human experimentation

He Jiankui, a researcher based in Shenzhen, China, is claiming to have used CRISPR gene editing techniques to genetically modify twin girls in their earliest, embryonic stage of life. These girls were allegedly born earlier this month. In Associated Press reports, He acknowledges that his purpose in genetically manipulating these persons was neither to cure or prevent disease.

Catherine Glenn Foster, President & CEO of Americans United for Life, shared the following in response to He’s claims:

“Gene editing through the CRISPR process holds tremendous promise for ethical and therapeutic medical interventions that benefit humankind, but what Chinese scientist He Jiankui admits to engaging in is human experimentation, plain and simple. We didn’t condone human experimentation in the last century when totalitarian regimes engaged it, and the international community does not condone it today.

“At a time when we’re increasingly uneasy about medical experimentation on animal subjects, it’s unconscionable that we would abandon our ethical principles in a regressive embrace of experimentation on human subjects.

“While CRISPR itself is still largely unregulated as a specific technique, the basic tenets of medicine and research as they relate to the rights of human subjects clearly indicate that what He Jiankui and others are attempting with this sort of research is unethical and simply dangerous. This is true not only for the subjects of such human experimentation but also for every human person who will subsequently be at risk of acquiring heritable genetic modifications whose implications are totally unpredictable.

“The fear and uncertainty that such unpublished, unverifiable, non-peer reviewed claims are already generating appears set to make the work of ethical and legitimate CRISPR research all the more difficult.”