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Call for Global Germline Editing Ban

Eighteen researchers from across the world have called for a temporary global moratorium on the clinical use of human germline editing in a commentary appearing in Nature. These researchers include Max Planck's Emmanuelle Charpentier, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Feng Zhang, and the Broad Institute's Eric Lander.

As GenomeWeb notes, this push for a ban comes on the heels of a researcher in China, He Jiankui, announcing that he had altered the genomes of twin girls as embryos.

The researchers' call, though, is not for a permanent moratorium, but a temporary one to provide time for discussions of the scientific, ethical, moral, and other implication of germline gene editing and to establish a framework to oversee such work going forward. "What we want to see are wise and open decisions," Lander tells the Guardian. "We want to make sure that countries don't do things secretly, that we declare what we're thinking, discuss it openly, and be prepared for debate and disagreement."

In an accompanying piece in Nature, the US National Institutes of Health's Carrie Wolinetz Francis Collins say that they support the proposed moratorium and a global discussion.

Some critics argue that a moratorium may just muddy the waters further. "How long should a moratorium last? Who gets to decide how and when to rescind a moratorium? Is such a call going to prompt even more restrictive attempts to legislate the science and prohibit any clinical work?" Harvard Medical School's George Daley tells NPR.

Others say a ban won't be effective, especially as there are already restrictions in place. "It's kind of like saying, we should have another law on top of the laws we already have against speeding, against cars going too fast. Let's have a triple layer law," Harvard's George Church tells Discover. "That wouldn't stop cars from speeding. What stops them is the radar."

The University of California, Berkeley's Jennifer Dounda did not sign on to the letter as she felt it "is effectively just rehashing what's been going on for several years," as she tells the Los Angeles Times. Instead, she adds at Scientific American that it is the time for action and to ensure that researchers who circumvent the rules know they will face consequences.