By giving permission to a group of researchers to genetically modify human embryos, the United Kingdom has re-affirmed its role as the EU country in which scientists have to comply with the lowest ethical standards. The British government apparently considers low ethics a competitive advantage.
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has, for the first time, approved a licence to use gene editing in research. This decision recklessly tears down one of the last ethical barriers for research. From now on, ethics will never again be an obstacle for ambitious researchers, or for the multi-million industry behind them.
The scientists, who want to find out to what happens in the first seven days after fertilisation and discover possible causes for miscarriage, will not be allowed to implant the embryos into women.HFEA views this as an important restriction, but it actually could be read as an obligation to kill human beings after having misused them.
Being legal in only one of 28 EU Member States, the Frankenstein-style experiment is nevertheless eligible for EU funding under the controversial Horizon 2020 scheme. The scheme comprises an ethics clause that the European Commission claims to be a “rigorous triple-lock system”, but which merely consists in saying that the research that is funded should not constitute a criminal act in the country where it is carried out.
Around 2 million EU citizens have signed a European Citizens’ Initiative, ONE OF US, in 2013 to protest against the EU’s funding of ethically questionable research projects. Despite this being the most successful of all European Citizens’ Initiatives so far, the European Commission however decided to block it, asserting that the controversial research “holds much promise” for future therapies.