A pro-life charity has condemned a decision by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) to allow British scientists to genetically modify human embryos.
The decision means that the Francis Crick Institute in London could begin experiments next month, only the second time that such a procedure has been undertaken. The first took place in China last year.
After the announcement Anne Scanlan, the education director of Life, said that the decision taken by the HFEA “ignored the warnings of over a hundred scientists worldwide”.
“The HFEA now has the reputation of being the first regulator in the world to approve this uncertain and dangerous technology,” said Scanlan.
“It has ignored the warnings of over a hundred scientists worldwide and given permission for a procedure, which could have damaging far-reaching implications for human beings. We do not know what long term side effects the tampering with some strands of DNA could have on other strands. However once genetic changes have been made they will be irreversible and handed down to future generations.”
The HFEA approved a licence for Kathy Niakan, a stem cell scientist at the Francis Crick Institute, to perform ‘genome editing’ on human embryos. The scientists are aiming to gain a deeper understanding of the earliest moments of human life.
The research, which will look at the fertilised egg’s development from a single cell to around 250 cells in the first seven days after fertilisation, may help scientists gain a better understanding of why some women lose their babies before term.
It will be illegal for the scientists to implant the modified embryos into a woman, however, critics have previously warned that the procedure will lead to designer babies and the destruction of embryos.
Miss Scanlan added: “We are also concerned that such controversial intervention in the human germline opens up the very real possibility of eugenics where the existence of human beings becomes conditional on the possession of certain physical characteristics.
“Whilst we note the HFEA restriction on the implantation of genetically modified embryos, it is sending the wrong signals by allowing scientists the ability to develop and possibly perfect the technology here in the UK. To mitigate any advancement on the potentially dangerous work being undertaken by these British scientists, we believe that an international ban on human DNA editing is urgently needed to protect the future of the human species.”