Ethics Council: International political debate on interventions in the human germline is required

The German Ethics Council urgently recommends that the German Bundestag and the Federal Government take the initiative in the forthcoming legislative period to kick off an international debate on germline interventions in humans in order to establish binding global rules as soon as possible.

The technical opportunities offered by genome editing raise complex and fundamental ethical questions particularly where they are used to modify the human germline. In recent times, research in this particularly sensitive area has been advanced at a great pace in some countries. As, however, this touches not only on national interests but also on the interests of mankind as a whole, there is a need for a broadly-based discussion and for international regulation.

The long term goal of applying genome editing to the human germline consists in the genetic modification of embryos for therapeutic purposes so as to eliminate causes for disease in all cells of the body. These modifications are passed on to potential progeny as well. The implications of this kind of genetic manipulations in humans are considerable. Scientific research, the results of which could have such fundamental effects on humanity's self-image, must be embedded in society. Neither is this an internal affair of the scientific community, nor is it a matter for one country alone.

In its ad hoc recommendation, the German Ethics Council mentions some of the numerous, as yet, unanswered questions and possible consequences of systematic genome manipulations in humans and requests that, in parallel to the discursive efforts on the part of the scientific community, political institutions should find ways and initiate processes to discuss the topic in an intensive, differentiated and, above all, global manner with the involvement of all relevant social groups and draw up the necessary regulatory standards as quickly and comprehensively as possible. To that end, a preparatory international conference should be staged on the level of the United Nations which could debate binding global rules or conventions under international law.

The full text of the ad hoc recommendation is available at here.