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'Exceptionally disappointing': Christians critical of gene editing approval

Mon 01 Feb 2016
By Antony Bushfield

The Christian charity CARE has described the approval of gene editing of human embryos as "exceptionally disappointing".

Regulator, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), said scientists had been given permission to genetically modify human embryos for the first time in the UK.

Experts hope it will allow them to examine what happens in the first seven days after fertilisation and investigate miscarriage.

James Mildred, spokesperson for CARE, told Premier it was "not all together surprising" and opens the door to "full blown eugenics [designer babies]".

"It's not the route we want to be going down as a civilised society," he added.

HFEA said no research using gene editing may take place until the research has received research ethics approval.

It added that it would remain illegal to implant the edited embryos into women.

The embryos - consisting of just a small number of cells - would be donated by couples undergoing IVF treatment who do not need them.

Under the 2008 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act they can only be used for basic research and must be destroyed after two weeks.

Dr Kathy Niakan of the Francis Crick Institute had applied for permission to do the research, she said: "We would really like to understand the genes needed for a human embryo to develop successfully into a healthy baby.

"The reason why it is so important is because miscarriages and infertility are extremely common, but they're not very well understood."

Mr Mildred added: "We express our deepest sympathy with people who suffer the unimaginable horror and pain of miscarriages or infertility. But what we would very sensitively say is there are other options out there. Options such as adoption.

"There are many parents who have gone down this route and it's brought tremendous good, not just to the young children but also to the parents as well.

"So there are other options, we don't need to cross ethical boundaries, we don't need to go down the route of unsafe experimentation."

Professor Peter Braude, an expert in obstetrics and gynaecology from King's College London, said: "I am delighted to hear that the HFEA have had the good sense to approve this important project.

"Gene editing tools will allow fresh insights into the basic genetic mechanisms that control cell allocation in the early embryo.

"These mechanisms are crucial in ensuring healthy normal development and implantation, and when they go wrong might result in failure to implant or miscarriage. I await results with interest."

John Wyatt is an emeritus professor in ethics at University College London and member of the Christian Medical Fellowship.

He told Premier's News Hour: "All technology can be used for good and evil and yes there is real potential for good. The whole dilemma we have is balancing the potential for good against the potential for evil.

"It is striking that pretty much every developed country across the world has outlawed this particular technique and the UK will be the first country in the west where it will be carried out legally.

"I just wonder whether we've had the level of democratic debate in the population of do we wish to be pushing the boundaries here in the UK and do the public understand why other countries have made it illegal?"

John Wyatt speaking to Premier's Antony Bushfield:

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