Changing a baby’s DNA while it is still an embryo to ‘enhance’ it has been deemed “morally acceptable” by a UK ethics council.
The technique of genome editing is touted as a means to correct genetic disorders.
But critics say it would lead to ‘designer babies’, where parents are able to select physical attributes such as height, and hair and eye colour.
The review by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics said that “genome editing is not unacceptable in itself, and therefore there is no reason to rule it out in principle”.
Dr David King, Director of Human Genetics Alert, said it was “an absolute disgrace” that the Nuffield Council had not rejected the idea.
He said: “We have had international bans on eugenic genetic engineering for 30 years. But this group of scientists thinks it knows better, even though there is absolutely no medical benefit to this whatever.”
He added: “The people of Britain decided 15 years ago that they don’t want GM food. Do you suppose they want GM babies?”
Dr Calum MacKellar, Director of Research at the Scottish Council on Human Bioethics, also criticised the Nuffield Council.
He said that society currently accepts that all human beings are equal in value and worth, “But by making sure certain persons do not come into existence, it would be possible to say that some individuals, who exist at present, should not have existed”.
Marcy Darnovsky, Executive Director of the Center for Genetics and Society, joined the chorus of disapproval, saying it had given its blessing to “an unneeded and societally dangerous biotechnology”.
She said that genome editing could be used “by privileged elites seeking purported genetic improvements to ensure that their children are treated as superior to the rest of us.”
She concluded that bioethicists should “affirm the widespread rejection” of genetic modification.
The technique, known as CRISPR/Cas9, has been found to cause unexpected damage to embryos.
A study by scientists at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridgeshire found that the process could cause ‘scrambling’ of the genetic code.