Scientists Claim That The World's First Gene-Edited Babies Have Been Created In China. Is This Ethically Acceptable?

Family & Kids

December 3, 2018 15:33 By Mambee

A scientist in China has claimed that he has created the world's first genetically edited babies. While this is yet to be confirmed, if found to be true, this would be a very controversial dilemma in the science world. 

Most countries have banned this type of gene editing mainly due to ethical reasons. In addition, the process is highly experimental and altering the DNA of human beings can affect future generations. This could become quite risky, considering the fact that there may be unexpected side effects.

Scientists Claim That The World's First Gene-Edited Babies Have Been Created In China. Is This Ethically Acceptable?Scientists Claim That The World's First Gene-Edited Babies Have Been Created In China. Is This Ethically Acceptable?Mor Seban / Shutterstock.com

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In an interview with Associated Press, He Jiankui, the Chinese scientist, said he made some changes in the embryos for seven couples during fertility treatments. So far, it has resulted in one successful pregnancy. He claimed that his motive was more about giving human certain genetic traits that would help them resist possible future HIV infection. 

Jiankui also said the parents are involved and gave permission for the experiment but they do not want to be identified and he would also not disclose any more information about them. 

Scientists Claim That The World's First Gene-Edited Babies Have Been Created In China. Is This Ethically Acceptable?Scientists Claim That The World's First Gene-Edited Babies Have Been Created In China. Is This Ethically Acceptable?Tanja Tatic /Shutterstock.com

Many people are, however, skeptical of these claims because there are no independent publications or official journals that have published his theoretical findings. And, as a result, other experts have not been given the chance to vet these claims. 

Jiankui simply made the announcement in Hong Kong during an international conference on gene editing. While speaking to Associated Press in a video interview, he said:

I feel a strong responsibility that it’s not just to make a first, but also make it an example. Society will decide what to do next.

Not many scientists approve of Jiankui's experiment, whether or not it is found to be true. Dr. Kiran Musunuru, a gene-editing expert at the University of Pennsylvania, who spoke to The Guardian, called it unconscionable. 

(It is) an experiment on human beings that is not morally or ethically defensible.

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Another expert, Julian Savulescu, a professor at the University of Oxford, also disapproved. While mentioning that gene editing could potentially cause genetic problems later in life, he added that Jiankui did not even need to perform such an experiment at all.

There are many effective ways to prevent HIV in healthy individuals: for example, protected sex. And there are effective treatments if one does contract it. This experiment exposes healthy normal children to risks of gene editing for no real necessary benefit. In many other places in the world, this would be illegal, punishable by imprisonment.

Social media users also weighed in on the topic.

It sounds like, for the most part, many people find Jiankui's experiment inappropriate and unnecessary. Do you agree?

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