MH Life Sciences

Tuesday 7th August, 2018

Human Genome Editing

Marriott Harrison’s life science team is proud of its involvement in the landmark Nuffield Report, “Genome editing and human reproduction”, which was published in July, available here.  The Report makes important recommendations for future legislation and governance arrangements in the UK and overseas.

Members of a working party commissioned by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, including Partner Julian Hitchcock, undertook an inquiry into social and ethical issues arising from advances in genome editing technologies such as CRISPR-Cas9, a cheap precision technology which holds out the prospect of avoiding the inheritance of genetic disease while maintaining a genetic connection between children and parents. At the centre of the inquiry was the issue of germline interventions; alterations in the genetic message passed down from one generation to another.  The working party, which was chaired by Professor Karen Yeung, spent almost two years analysing the science of human genome editing and its potential development, scouring the literature, interviewing experts, and examining the ethical and social implications of the technology, were it to be permitted.  Finally, the committee reviewed the legal environment in the UK, Europe, the USA and China, and made a number of recommendations for the development of the law, should society decide to permit human genome editing.

The Nuffield Human Genome Editing Report makes a significant advance over previous inquiries, not only in the depth of its inquiry, but in its statements that, “We can, indeed, envisage circumstances in which heritable genome editing interventions should be permitted” and that “there are moral reasons to continue with the present lines of research and to secure the conditions under which heritable editing interventions would be permissible”.  Two fundamental principles underpin the Report’s conclusions: the welfare of the future person, and the interests of social justice and solidarity.

The Report makes fifteen recommendations: to research bodies, calling for research towards establishing standards of clinical safety and social impacts; to the UK government, including a call for broad and inclusive public debate, and the review of existing legislation and governance frameworks; to governments internationally, including the call for a Declaration of Genomic Equality; and with regard to licensing and regulatory arrangements.

Should human genome editing proceed towards legislation, in the UK or elsewhere, the Nuffield Report will undoubtedly provide a key document.

Commenting on his role, Julian Hitchcock said, “It has been an enormous privilege to have been involved in this important inquiry. As the debate moves into the public arena, that privilege has become everybody’s.

Marriott Harrison’s life science team continues to lead the way in the law of genomics and genetics.