March 1, 2024

Embryo gene-editing in Canada: Ethicists urge caution

Two Canadian ethicists defend a moratorium on embryo gene-editing, arguing that it reflects an international consensus

Two Canadian ethicists have defended their country’s moratorium on embryo gene-editing experiments, arguing that it reflects international consensus on the ethics of germline editing.

Writing in Impact Ethics, Francois Baylis of Dalhousie University and Alana Cattapan of the University of Saskatchewan describe current Canadian law — which prohibits altering “the genome of a cell of a human being or in vitro embryo such that the alteration is capable of being transmitted to descendants” — as in line with current “international standards”.

“the prohibition on editing the human genome is consistent with international standards…Article 13 of the Oviedo Convention stipulates that: “An intervention seeking to modify the human genome may only be undertaken for preventive, diagnostic or therapeutic purposes and only if its aim is not to introduce any modification in the genome of any descendants””.

Baylis and Cattapan also argue that extending public consultation is needed before we permit the use of experimental technologies:

“even if international standards were different, the new possibilities for heritable modification require ongoing, meaningful public dialogue about a wide range of ethical and social issues…we are a very long way away from being ready to amend [the law] to remove the prohibition of making genetic alterations that can be passed on to future generations.”

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