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Sunday, June 9, 2019

German ethics council expresses openness to eventual embryo editing

Sharon Begley
www.statnews.com
Originally posted May 13, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

The council’s openness to human germline editing was notable, however. Because of the Nazis’ eugenics programs and horrific human medical experiments, Germany has historically been even warier than other Western countries of medical technologies that might violate human dignity or could be exploited for eugenic purposes. The country’s 1990 Embryo Protection Act prohibits germline modifications for the purpose of reproduction.

“Germany has been very reluctant to get involved with anything that could lead to a re-introduction of eugenic practices in their society,” Annas said.

Despite that history, a large majority of the council called further development and possible use of germline editing “a legitimate ethical goal when aimed at avoiding or reducing genetically determined disease risks,” it said in a statement. If the procedure can be shown not to harm embryos or the children they become, it added, then altering a gene that otherwise causes a devastating illness such as cystic fibrosis or sickle cell is acceptable.

While some ethicists and others argue against embryo editing on the ground that it violates the embryos’ dignity, the German council wrote, “the question also arises as to whether the renunciation of germline intervention, which could spare the people concerned severe suffering, would not violate their human dignity, too.” Similarly, failing to intervene in order to spare a future child pain and suffering “would at least have to be justified,” the council said, echoing arguments that some families with a history of inherited diseases have.

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