CHINA - Gene-Edited Babies

Arno Froese

University professor He Jiankui said the DNA of twin girls had been altered to prevent them from contracting HIV, but his claims prompted a fierce backlash from the scientific community who not only cast doubt over the breakthrough, but also questioned its morality.

China is seeking to become a leader in the fields of genetic research and cloning, forging ahead even as others hesitate over ethical issues.

Scientists in the country were the first to carry out gene editing on human embryos in 2015, although with mixed results, the British journal Nature reported in 2017. And earlier this year, Chinese scientists unveiled monkeys that were cloned using the same technique that produced Dolly the Sheep two decades ago.

A group of 122 Chinese scientists signed a joint statement calling the experiment “crazy” and said it was unfair to other scientists who stick to “the moral bottom line.”

A notice from Shenzhen’s medical ethics authority said that all medical organizations must establish an ethics review committee before undertaking biomedical research concerning humans, and the ethics board of the hospital involved had not completed its registration as required.

Looser regulations have allowed China to get ahead in the biomedical field, said Michael Donovan, the founder of Veraptus, a biotech company in China.

But other factors such as a larger population providing a larger pool of potential patients, as well as regulatory support from the government also played a role, Donovan said.

“In many industries, the regulatory stance is that if there aren’t laws for it, then they can proceed cautiously,” he added.

“And that’s the murky area that gene-editing is in right now.”

While certain hospitals can approve certain procedures without it going to a national approval body, it was “very strange” that He did not get a national authority’s greenlight for such a ground-breaking experiment, Donovan said.

“From the ethical side you don’t have the religious pool that we do in the United States,” he said. “But it is still life, so people are still concerned that we’re moving forward too quickly with this.”, 27 November 2018

Arno's commentary

Under the slogan, “boost medical research into human diseases,” scientists have virtually unlimited liberty. Officially, religion is not endorsed or supported by the government, thus “genetically-edited babies” are not out of the question. But, as this article shows, 122 Chinese scientists said, “…it was unfair to other scientists who stick to ‘the moral bottom line.’”

Indeed, religion is often a stumbling block, but in the case of communist China, we see a relatively small number of scientists who urge the community to respect “the moral bottom line.”

Man will not cease in his quest to create, in this case interfering in God’s creation. Here the words of King David in Psalm 139:13-16 are applicable: “For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.”

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