WYA Statement on He Jiankui and ‘gene-edited babies’

February 26, 2020, China – News broke in 2019 that researchers led by He JianKui, a Chinese scientist, claimed that two babies had been born following gene editing. He claimed that the edits, made on children with at least one HIV-positive parent, would make them resistant to HIV. A Chinese court has recently ordered him and two of his colleagues a three-year prison sentence plus a fine of $430,000.00. World Youth Alliance condemns the genetic experiments undertaken by He JianKui and his colleagues.

Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

Many scientists have questioned not only whether He’s account of his success is accurate, but also the ethical considerations. Although HIV can be transmitted between mother and child, such transmissions are almost entirely preventable. Additionally, there is no way to be sure that such edits will not cause other problems which may alter the genetics of that family forever and be inherited by future generations.

However, even if the experiment could be guaranteed to have the intended effects and no others, the practice would remain deeply troubling, similar to the screening of embryos created in assisted reproduction for “undesirable” traits. As stated in the WYA Statement On The Use of Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART’s), “Testing to screen human beings before birth and eliminate those who possess traits considered undesirable is a problematic use of ART. This practice of eugenics reduces the person to a set of traits and promotes the historically destructive idea within society that a person is valued according to ability or characteristic rather than for whom he or she is: a human being.”

WYA believes that each human being possesses intrinsic dignity from conception until natural death, and that it is the utmost responsibility of the family, with society, to ensure that human beings are not reduced to commodities, including by the research community, and even when seemingly well-intentioned. WYA is deeply troubled at emerging reports that other scientists intend to replicate He’s work with other medical conditions, and reject the idea that He’s error was in proceeding in advance of ethical rules allowing him to do so. No rule permitting such a practice could rightly be called ethical.

WYA calls on institutions and governments to take precise measures and exercise complete transparency to prevent these experiments from happening and promote an integral understanding of human life through law and culture.