March 13, 2019

NIH supports international moratorium on clinical application of germline editing

Today, leading scientists and ethicists from seven countries have called for an international moratorium on the use of genetic editing to modify the human germline for clinical purposes. The call comes in the wake of irresponsible and unethical research in China, in which twins were born after alterations to their DNA before implantation. This unexpected and unwelcome revelation roiled the scientific community and the general public, and crystalized the need for guiding international principles.  Research on the potential to alter the very biological essence of humanity raises profound safety, ethical, and philosophical issues.  I expressed NIH’s position on the incident in November 2018.

Until nations can commit to international guiding principles to help determine whether and under what conditions such research should ever proceed, NIH strongly agrees that an international moratorium should be put into effect immediately.  NIH Office of Science Policy Director Dr. Carrie Wolinetz and I have outlined the reasons for a moratorium and the need for international actions in a correspondence to the journal Nature.

NIH looks forward to working with other U.S. and international federal agencies, health and science organizations, patient communities, and the public at large to engage in a substantive debate about the benefits and risks of this research.  We are hopeful that this shared interest will result in a judicious framework to address future decisions on whether or how the clinical use of germline editing could be done with the utmost respect for human life.

Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D.
Director, NIH