A controversial intervention in our genetic make-up

Britain has for the first time given the green light for human embryos to be genetically modified for research purposes. The application of a genetic engineer in London was approved by the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority on Monday. Some commentators see the move as a first step in the direction of designer babies. Others are delighted at the prospect of gaining new medical knowledge.

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The Daily Telegraph (GB) /

Consequences unpredictable for future generations

The decision by the British Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority to authorise the genetic manipulation of human embryos ignores those who will be most affected, the conservative Daily Telegraph argues:

“Future generations, however, are not able to consent to germline editing that will manipulate their welfare in ways that we cannot yet predict or alter if things go wrong. Looking back, our descendants might or might not accept our decision as legitimate, but they will have no way of changing it. It might look obvious that they would welcome a future free of genetic disability, but even if there were no unintended or unforeseen adverse consequences - which is extremely unlikely - they might not.”

El Mundo (ES) /

Protecting health must be the priority

Genetic manipulation on embryos must only be used to protect health, the conservative daily El Mundo demands and calls for clearly formulated laws on the issue:

“It has been empirically proven that the same biotechnology that can serve to treat illnesses like cancer or Alzheimer's can also be used to create human clones. But while the former aids scientific progress the latter violates the basic ethical principles. In other words, genetic selection is justifiable for curing diseases but not for creating designer babies. And this moral principle should underlie all future legislation.”

Lidové noviny (CZ) /

Designer babies on the way?

Genetically engineered human embryos could pave the way for designer babies, the conservative daily Lidové noviny fears:

“An even more basic question lurks in the background: do the people who make the decisions on genetic research know enough about the subject? To avoid misunderstandings, the question is not meant to cast doubts on their scientific abilities. ... They will say that to the best of their knowledge the method is safe. A genetically modified embryo may never be embedded in a womb. But others could argue that what is possible will sooner or later become reality. If it's possible to genetically modify plants, then such plants will be used to relieve hunger in Africa. But then the same thing will apply for human embryos. And that opens the door to the construction of genetically modified babies.”

Süddeutsche Zeitung (DE) /

Public debate lagging behind developments

A public debate on human embryo manipulation must take precedent over research freedom, the centre-left daily Süddeutsche Zeitung warns:

“The permission to modify the human genetic make-up affects not just the researchers and not just the British, it affects the entire human race. Genome editing could change the future of the human species. Unwanted defects, physical and even mental weaknesses could be eliminated forever. … The first step in this direction has now been taken without a public vote. The dam has broken in the laboratory. Before the next step is taken, outside the lab, the long overdue dialogue with the people and their political representatives must take place. Society must take up the issue and be able to form its own judgement - and that judgement must be heard and respected.”

La Repubblica (IT) /

A boon for research and the family

The goal of this revolutionary technique is above all to help people, pharmacologist Elena Cattaneo writes in the centre-left daily La Repubblica:

“CRISPR-Cas9 - nine letters and a number that add up to a revolution. The goal is to find out how to improve artificial insemination and to gain insights into the earliest stages of human development. Improving the chances of success for women who undergo artificial insemination could mean less hormonal stimulation, less suffering, fewer disappointments and perhaps more newborn babies. … People who care about raising birthrates and forming new families should approve of the research. It's time to stop believing those who complain endlessly about an irresponsible science focussed solely on creating the perfect baby.”