Designer babies? Ethics council approves genetically-edited embryos

Creating 'designer babies' to enhance looks or intelligence could be 'morally permissible'

Experts from the UK's Nuffield Council on Bioethics said that while the law should not now be changed to allow human genome editing to correct genetic faults in offspring, future legislation permitting it should not be ruled out.

According to the report, editing human embryos, sperm, or eggs is "morally permissible" as long as the edit doesn't jeopardize the welfare of the future person (the one born from the edited embryo) or "increase disadvantage, discrimination, or division in society". It is now becoming possible to alter DNA in a human embryo, potentially correcting genetic diseases.

The debate over the ethics of editing embryo genomes has been ongoing since the advent of gene-editing technologies, but recent advances in gene editing - namely, CRISPR-Cas9 - have made the debate more prominent.

The landmark report, "Genome editing and human reproduction: social and ethical issues, " calls for more research into the safety, effectiveness, impact on society and a widespread debate of its implications, The Guardian reported.

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"There is no reason to rule it out in principle", she said, according to The Guardian newspaper.

So, does this mean it's legal in the UK?

However, some experiments have shown that modifying DNA could, in principle, be used to prevent serious inherited diseases.

Nevertheless, the science behind it is far from flawless, and in some cases has proven unsafe and problematic.

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The report's authors recognize the potential for "unintended consequences" should the laws change.

However, Professor Karen Yeung, of Birmingham University, who chaired the panel, said: "We have concluded that the potential use of genome editing to influence the characteristics of future generations is not unacceptable in itself". "However, if the technology develops it has potential to become an alternative strategy available to parents for achieving a wider range of goals".

While genome editing for reproductive purposes is "currently unlawful" in the United Kingdom, the authors state, "there is potential for genome editing to be used in a wider variety of more common circumstances, and for a wider range of purposes that may be unrelated to the avoidance of medical diseases or disorders".

The field has always been surrounded by controversy, with critics fearing that gene-editing could be used to create a generation of so-called "designer" babies.

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