Unanimously adopting a draft recommendation, based on the report prepared by Stefan Schennach (Austria, SOC), the PACE Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development urged member States to impose a comprehensive ban on “establishing a pregnancy with germline cells, their precursors, or human embryos having undergone intentional genome editing of their nuclear DNA”.
The committee noted that in 2018, it was revealed that a Chinese researcher had conducted unsanctioned work resulting in the birth of twin girls with modified genes aimed at granting them immunity to HIV/AIDS. This act was strongly criticised by ethicists and scientists globally, highlighting the need for a worldwide moratorium on such procedures not just due to their premature nature and high risk of side effects, but also because they cross a line viewed as ethically inviolable.
Despite the push by some scientists for a “translational pathway for heritable human genome editing,” the scientific community largely agrees that the current technology is not yet safe and effective enough for establishing pregnancies having undergone this technique. No country explicitly permits this practice, and the “risks are serious and manifold, and cannot be ethically justified,” stressed the parliamentarians.
The recommendation is rooted in the Council of Europe's Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine (the Oviedo Convention), which stipulates that “an intervention seeking to modify the human genome may only be undertaken for preventive, diagnostic or therapeutic purposes and only if its aim is not to introduce any modifications in the genome of any descendants.” This principle has been further clarified in 2022 to include both research and clinical contexts.
In light of these concerns, the committee urged Member States that have not yet ratified the Oviedo Convention to do so promptly. Additionally, the committee reminded the States Parties to the Oviedo Convention of their obligation to facilitate “a broad and informed public debate on heritable genome editing in human beings.”
Finally, the parliamentarians called upon Member States to enact clear and comprehensive legislation at the national level to prohibit establishing pregnancies with genome-edited germline cells, their precursors, or human embryos.