Council of Europe: vigilance warning on new genetic technologies debates

On April 25, 2017, the Committee on Social Affairs at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) adopted the draft report on the use of new genetic technologies in human beings. The report will now be considered during the next plenary session to be held in Strasbourg from June 26 – 30, 2017.

In 2015, a motion for recommendation entitled “Genetically Engineered Human Beings” was submitted to the Committee on Social Affairs. Belgian Senator, Petra De Sutter (SOC) was named as the rapporteur on March 15, 2016. She presented a highly controversial recommendation on surrogacy which was rejected in 2016.

On November 30, 2016, the title was changed to « The use of new genetic technologies in human beings”.  Restricted hearings were held during the Assembly Plenary Session on January 24, 2017.

The Commission recommends a five-step plan from the Parliamentary Assembly to be addressed to the Committee’s ministers:

– to urge member States which have not yet ratified the Oviedo Convention, to do so without further delay, or, as a minimum, to put in place a national ban on pregnancies using germline cells or human embryos having undergone intentional genome editing;

– to encourage a public debate providing accurate information;

– to instruct the Council of Europe Bioethics Committee (DH-BIO) to assess the ethical and legal challenges, in the light of the principles laid down in the Oviedo Convention and the precautionary principle;

– to establish a common regulatory and legal framework;

– to recommend Member States to elaborate clear national positions on the use of new genetic technologies, based on the 4 previous steps, setting clear limits and promoting good practices.

Alliance VITA urges to focus on the genuine issue which is an ethical one, and not only on the technical risks related to genetic engineering of germinal cell lines.  Even if the techniques demonstrate improved performance and specificity in the future with a better risk/benefit ratio, the ethical issues will still have to be considered in priority.

The recent births of genetically engineered babies by using the controversial “3-parent IVF” technique is a matter of serious concern. Thus a ban on pregnancy with germline cells or human embryos having undergone intentional genome editing is necessary. Nevertheless some grey areas need to be clarified in June when the Parliamentary Assembly considers this report.  Alliance VITA has published an analytical paper to explain the challenges related to human rights and to modifying the human genome.

Alliance VITA will keep a watchful eye on possible interpretations of the Oviedo Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine as to any attempts at amending this convention, which might result from these discussions.


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