Stop GM human embryos (28/2/2007)

2.Law change 'may bring designer babies'


After 25 years of genetic engineering of plants and animals, scientists are now ready to take the ultimate step: the genetic engineering of human embryos. In December, the British government said it would allow them to go ahead. It is planning to table draft legislation in March. This will be the first time any government has sanctioned genetic engineering of human embryos, and is against international agreements.

WE ARE NOW AT A CRUCIAL THRESHOLD: IT IS VITAL THAT WE TELL THE GOVERNMENT THAT HUMAN GENETIC ENGINEERING IS UNACCEPTABLE. If we do not stop it now, in ten years we could be living in a world of ‘consumer eugenics' in which:

*genetically ‘enhanced' human embryos are traded as commodities *parents choose their children's characteristics like any other consumer product *the rich are able to give their children built-in biological advantages over the rest of us.

The record of the GM food corporations should warn us what will happpen if our children are genetically engineered.

DO NOT BE DECEIVED by the government's promise to ban the creation of actual 'designer babies', until the technology is safe. The decision to allow scientists to begin research is the crucial decision. If the government did not intend to ultimately allow the creation of babies, why permit scientists to begin research? Once the technology is thought to be safe, we will be subjected to a barrage of hype and emotional blackmail about its supposed medical benefits.

DO NOT BE DECEIVED by promises that this research will prevent suffering and genetic diseases. In fact, it is absolutely unnecessary. Firstly, many disabled people's organisations have condemned such moves to eliminate them from society. But if parents wish to avoid having children with genetic conditions, then there are already many options: they can use sperm or egg donors, pre-natal testing and abortion, or genetic testing of embryos; or they can simply remain childless or adopt children. What genetic engineering can do, that other technologies cannot, is to produce 'enhanced' babies, and that is where the real market will be.

In the GM food debate it has often been said that the public backlash against GM could have been avoided if there had been democratic discussion at the early stages of developing the technology. But now, the government is yet again deciding to cross a fundamental ethical line simply because a few ambitious scientists are urging it to do so, and without any public discussion. SO NOW IS THE TIME FOR ALL OF US TO ACT.


*Write to the Minister responsible for the legislation: Caroline Flint MP, Department of Health, Richmond House,79 Whitehall London SW1A 2NS; [email protected] It is always better to use your own words, but if you do not wish to, here is a sample letter that you can use.

*Write to your own MP letting them know your views on GM embryos
*For more information on this issue, visit
www.hgalert.org/topics/hge or http://www.genetics-and-society.org/technologies/igm/index.html


2.Law change 'may bring designer babies'
By Roger Highfield, Science Editor
The Telegraph, 24 Feb 2007

Britain could become the first country to sanction the genetic alteration of human embryos, a step that a pressure group claims could pave the way to designer babies.

A decade after the cloning of Dolly the sheep, the Government is opening the door to GM human embryos for research, according to Human Genetics Alert.

David King, its director, said: "In a world first, the Government has said it will allow scientists to begin developing the technology for genetic modification of human beings, although creation of actual GM babies will be prohibited for the moment. We believe the public will be horrified."

There is a need for a public debate on genetic alteration of embryos said HGA. It said that it could eventually lead to "germ-line" gene therapy, where DNA changes are passed down generations, and to genetic enhancement, where embryos are altered to boost intelligence or for cosmetic purposes.

A draft Bill for legislation to replace the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 is being prepared with the intention of including a full Bill in the Queen's Speech next November. But Mr King called on the Government to "draw the line" at GM embryos.

Although the White Paper says genetic alterations of eggs, sperm and embryos "should not be permitted for reproductive purposes" it adds that this is only "for the foreseeable future, and until such time as safety and efficacy are assured".

The paper says the Government "is not, however, convinced of the need to preclude research activities that would involve altering the genetic structure of the embryo".

Dr Michael Antoniou, a gene therapist at Guy's Hospital, London, was concerned that even though germ-line therapy was too dangerous to attempt, the White Paper signalled the acceptance of safe germ-line modification of embryos.

Dr Richard Nicholson, the editor of the Bulletin of Medical Ethics, said: "Every country that has legislated on this subject has banned it.

"Thus the British Government's decision breaks ranks with the international community, and may lead to the perception that Britain is a haven for irresponsible and profit-driven scientists."

A Department for Health spokesman said: "Any sanction of the genetic alteration of human embryos is in the context of research only.

"The Government proposes that the law will continue to ban genetic modification of embryos for reproductive purposes. Moreover we will extend that prohibition to explicitly cover sperm and eggs."

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