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Editing Ethics

In an op-ed at the Boston Globe, Dalhousie University's Françoise Baylis calls on researchers to weigh whether heritable human genome editing research should be pursued.

Last week, He Jiankui, the researcher who announced in 2018 that he had edited the genomes of twin girls as embryos, was fined and sentenced to three years in jail. This outcome, Baylis writes, was predictable as scientists around the world, including in China, condemned the work on both scientific and ethical grounds. But she noted that it also includes some scapegoating of He.

Additionally, Baylis notes that He was trained in the US and the "culture of science" he knew was that of the US — where, she adds, numerous other researchers may have known of his plans, but kept quiet. "This speaks to the need for an open and honest discussion about the broader cultural context in which He's work was incentivized," she writes.

Baylis further writes at the Boston Globe that scientists need to consider the world they want to live in. "The pivotal ethical question we must address is not how but whether to embrace the project of genetically altering our descendants," she says.