On December 30, 2019, a Chinese researcher, Jiankui He, was sentenced by the Chinese District Court of Shenzhen City to 3 years in prison with a fine of 3 million RMB yuan for committing the crime of “illegal medical practice”, and the other two defendants in the same case were also convicted. One was sentenced to 2 years in prison with a fine of 1 million RMB yuan, another to 1 year and 6 months imprisonment (with a suspended sentence of 2 years) with a fine of 0.5 million RMB yuan . The court found that each of the three defendants did not have a doctor`s office license and they applied genome editing technology (known as Clustered Regular Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, CRISPR) to human-assisted reproductive medicine, which caused genetic alterations in the babies. In this case, fathers are HIV-positive and mothers are HIV-negative. The eggs were extracted from her body and the twin pregnancy was conceived after the genome-edited embryos were transferred to her uterus. The genome editing was done to remove the CCR5 gene, which allows HIV to infect cells. The birth of the babies represented a controversial leap in genome editing . A day later, when he announced his team`s research, more than 100 Chinese scientists signed a joint statement condemning the trial. They reiterated that the accuracy of CRISPR and the potential off-target effects are controversial in the scientific community. Any attempt to directly transform human embryos and conceive babies before rigorous testing carries enormous risks.
Such experiments are prohibited by the international biomedical community. Conversely, several concerns have been raised about the possibility of creating designer babies, particularly the inefficiencies currently caused by technology. Bioethicist Ronald Green explained that while the technology is “inevitable in our future,” he foresees “serious errors and health problems as unknown genetic side effects in `modified` children.  In addition, Green warned against the possibility that “the rich” could have easier access to technology. This makes them even better off. The president of the Nuffield Bioethics Council, Professor Karen Yeung, stressed that if funding the proceedings “exacerbates social injustice, we don`t think it would be an ethical approach.”  They found that 29 countries (in red above) had a complete legal ban on gene editing. Many countries completely prohibit the modification of human embryos, but in other cases the rules are not as clearly defined. Even if this is the case, these rules are rarely legally binding.
“We are disappointed,” said Sean Tipton, advocacy, policy and development manager for the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. “To be clear, no one will get to work producing genetically modified babies if Congress lifts this ban. What they are allowed to do is submit a carefully designed and evaluated research protocol. A narrow interpretation of Article 15 prohibits genome editing only in cases where it is carried out for reproductive purposes. This is based on the idea that when a researcher conducts research on an embryo, he does not intend to inherit genomic alterations from the descendants of the embryo because they do not intend to implant the embryo. Thus, the second part of the prohibition in Article 15 would not be respected in the case of embryonic genome editing for research purposes.