Genetically modifying the human genome has become rather simple, accessible, fast and inexpensive with the CRISPR-Cas9 technique, and promises extraordinary leaps in research and genetic therapy.
But the ethical issues raised are important and France must urgently address them. In spite of certain moratorium requests addressed to the international community, a red line has just been crossed: on February 1, the United Kingdom authorized a scientist to genetically modify human embryos, which will later be destroyed. Although these techniques are not yet perfectly operational, they are advancing at vertiginous speed and promise the possibility in the future of creating genetically modified infants, with serious risks of eugenic and scientific abuse. Modifying the genome of an embryo also concerns the future descendants by these modifications transmissible from one generation to the next, in a definitive manner with unpredictable consequences.
Although France ratified the Oviedo* convention, this subject must imperatively be addressed by the scientific, academic, and ethical authorities in France: at issue is the protection against abuses identified by UNESCO “putting the inherent and equal dignity of all humans in danger, thus giving rise anew to eugenics, disguised as fulfilling a desire for a better life”.
On February 9, 2016, Alliance VITA wrote to Mr. Jean-Claude AMEISEN in order that the National Ethics Consultation Committee that he presides, reflect on this issue of major importance. France must assume its position as an ethical reference against all merchandising of the body and in favor of respecting human dignity.
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* The Oviedo convention, in Article 13, specifies that “an procedure with intent to modify the human genome can only be undertaken for preventive, diagnostic or therapeutic reasons, and only if it does not have intend to introduce modification in the genome of any descendants.”