Dr Silvia Camporesi and Dr Lara Marks comment for the Conversation on the recent application by researchers at Francis Crick institute to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority to use CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing technologies to human embryos:
This is a controversial move, which would make the UK the only country in the world apart from China to carry out such research. […] The recent call by US scientists for a temporary pause “in the application of germ-line modification for clinical application in humans while the implications of such activity are discussed” has added a new intensity to the debate and reveals a potential bioethical divide between the US and the UK. The proposed moratorium has been hailed in some quarters as a positive step toward preserving the public’s trust and safety, but because of its narrow focus on the germ-line, it also prevents alternative views from surfacing in the debate and constrains the boundaries of the much called-for public engagement with the issue. Parallels have been drawn between the action of the US scientists and the Asilomar conference in Caifornia in 1975. The conference was set up to discuss the biohazards presented by a new technique published in 1973 for producing recombinant DNA. The meeting called for scientists to temporarily halt use of the technology while guidelines were deliberated. Drawing parallels with the Asilomar conference, however, is inappropriate.
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