Embryo engineering a ‘moral duty’

According to a leading scientist, it would be a "sin of omission" and unethical to block the option of genetically engineering embryos.

Cloning pioneer Dr Tony Perry told the BBC that advances in genetic engineering posed a "wonderful opportunity" for eliminating diseases that are passed on via DNA, such as cystic fibrosis.

"My view is this is such a wonderful opportunity to remove horrible diseases that it would be unethical not to explore it,” he said.

"I think it is a sin of omission, if you have a method where you can prevent someone suffering and you don't take that opportunity then it is wrong, it is unethical.

"But that needs to be in context of a full debate."

However, other scientists have expressed a belief that this is ‘a line that should not be crossed’.

Dr Francis Collins, director of the US National Institutes of Health, has made it clear his organisation does not support research in this area.

He said: "The concept of altering the human germline in embryos for clinical purposes has been debated over many years from many different perspectives, and has been viewed almost universally as a line that should not be crossed.

"Advances in technology have given us an elegant new way of carrying out genome editing, but the strong arguments against engaging in this activity remain."

Some argue that screening for genetic diseases during IVF is a better method of preventing genetic disorders being passed down from parents.

For Dr Perry, this screening process also poses ethical concerns: "But then people might have qualms as you've got to generate human embryos you know you are going to destroy as they will carry the mutation."

Last month, scientists at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangdong, China, announced that they were the first group to successfully edit the genome of a human embryo.

Their researched showed that they could correct errors in the DNA that led to a blood disorder, beta thalassaemia, in non-viable embryos.

UK law would allow embryos to be modified for research purposes, but not for implantation into a woman. Any change to the law would almost certainly face fierce ethical and religious opposition.

For full BBC News article visit: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-32633510