Should we modify DNA in human embryos?

Scientists have successfully edited a defective gene in a human embryo for the first time ever. The research team at the Center for Embryonic Cell and Gene Therapy in Portland has thus potentially paved the way for curing certain illnesses at the embryonic stage. Europe's commentators discuss how far such interventions should go.

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Financial Times (GB) /

Who doesn't want a healthy baby?

This research is a good and pioneering enterprise, the Financial Times stresses:

“The 'slippery slope' argument - that technology developed for good medical reasons will inevitably be applied for ethically more dubious purposes such as producing 'designer babies' with enhanced looks, athletic ability or intelligence - justifies strong regulatory controls to prevent such abuse, but is surely no reason to abandon research that aims to reduce human suffering. ...The number of beneficiaries may be small in the early years, but the technology's long-term promise is so great that society must develop a framework for its clinical development. Producing healthy babies is a laudable aim.”

El Mundo (ES) /

Don't forget what happened to Icarus

Mankind must take care not to go too far, warns El Mundo:

“Throughout history, the urge to play God has allowed us to advance and achieve what seemed impossible. But as the ancient myth of Icarus teaches us, everything has its limits. With his wax-glued wings he was able to fly, but driven by his boundless ambition he flew too close to the sun, the wax melted, and he plunged into the sea. … We believe that the selection and modification of genes is acceptable and welcome as long as it is used for biotechnological purposes, for example helping to heal Alzheihmer's. But under no circumstances should it be used for the aberrant purposes of eugenics or creating designer babies, which up to now have been the stuff of science fiction and must remain that way forever.”

La Croix (FR) /

Once the door is open...

Clear rules are needed, La Croix demands:

“The Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine drawn up [by the Council of Europe in 1997] in Oviedo and signed by most member states only authorises interventions on the human genome if they are not aimed at altering it for future generations. That's exactly the issue here. The risks of this type of manipulation must be evaluated seriously: the genome is part of our heritage and must be protected. As we all know, once the door is open it's difficult to close it. We need a framework for the use of this technology that limits its scope to medical purposes.”

Neue Zürcher Zeitung (CH) /

Don't be too quick to condemn

Fears about designer babies are no reason to condemn the research, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung admonishes:

“The current research efforts are not aimed at optimising human beings but at healing diseases and preventing suffering. To demonise all the research for fear of what such technology can potentially achieve would be as inappropriate as to condemn the Internet simply because it is used to spread lies or plan acts of terrorism. Every technological achievement has the potential to bring major benefits or cause huge damage. Therefore it's important to bear the risks in mind and to jointly define under which circumstances interventions in the genetic make-up are justified, and also when the experiment of implanting an embryo with modified genes into a woman should be attempted at all.”