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MEDIA RELEASE

For immediate release Thursday November 14 2019

Activists mount first street protest against designer babies

Today, activists from the new campaigning group Stop Designer Babies (SDB; 1) are mounting the first street protest against the drive by some scientists to create genetically modified (GM) babies. SDB is demonstrating outside a meeting (2) of a group of scientists who are planning how to conduct GM baby experiments without asking the public whether we should go in that direction.

Since other well-established techniques exist for avoiding the birth of children with genetic diseases (3), there is no medical need for human genetic engineering (4). It is because of the risk of a free market form of eugenics (5) that governments around the world banned the creation of cloned and GM babies over 20 years ago. At a time of massive inequality and rising right-wing authoritarianism, human genetic engineering is a weapon of mass social destruction, and the move to legalise it is the ultimate in scientific irresponsibility.

The intention of this self-appointed international commission to push ahead with the creation on GM babies is extremely clear. After an initial decision to wait until there was a ‘broad social consensus’, within 18 months the US National Academy of Sciences decided that creating GM babies was ethically acceptable, and a year later the UK’s Nuffield Council on Bioethics said that even creating genetically ‘enhanced’ designer babies was acceptable. The Commission’s remit (6) shows that it is open to considering such genetic ‘enhancements’, despite the strong ethical consensus that has existed for many years against allowing such designer babies. Even when there was worldwide outrage at the birth of GM babies in China in 2018, the Commission refused to advocate a moratorium.

These moves are typical of an official bioethics system that is dominated by techno-enthusiastic scientists and that always decides in favour of every new genetic technology, no matter what the consequences. The Commission’s members include several open supporters of human genetic engineering, but none who have publicly opposed it, such as the many signatories to an international statement that will shortly be published (7). The speakers at its meetings have also been dominated by those eager to move ahead toward designer babies. This technocratic process of engineering and disregarding public opinion and imposition of every new genetic technology is exactly what led to the campaign against GM foods.

David King, a member of Stop Designer Babies, said: “Given the determination of a small group of scientists to press ahead with human genetic engineering, regardless of consequences, it is vital that ordinary people stand up and say no to a future of eugenics and turning children into just another consumer item.”

For more information about the protest, contact David King on (+44)20 7502 7516/(+44)7854 256040.

Notes for editors

  1. Stop Designer Babies is a group of grassroots activists, scientists and other opponents of human genetic engineering. It is a secular group that supports abortion rights. For more details see stopdesignerbabies.org
  2. The meeting of the International Commission on Clinical Use of Human Germline Genome Editing is taking place at the Sainsbury wing of The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, on November 14, and at the Royal Society on November 15.
  3. Parents who know that they are at risk of a having child with a genetic disease have several options for avoiding that. The low-tech traditional method is adoption. Secondly, since because of the way genetics works, genetic diseases result from the combination of both parents’ genes, parents can choose to use either egg or sperm cells from someone else to create the baby. As with adoption, this will mean that one parent at least is not the genetic parent of the child. Many people place much importance on upon being their child’s genetic parent. However, that is a social benefit, not a medical benefit to anyone. It is highly questionable whether it is ethical to subject the child to considerable risks from novel invasive technologies for the sake of such a benefit. Thirdly, parents may start a pregnancy and have prenatal genetic testing and abort an affected foetus. Finally, there is the option of preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), which involves producing embryos through IVF and testing a batch of 10 embryos to find one which does not have the mutation.This spectrum of methods can prevent the birth of children with genetic diseases, except in a minuscule number of hypothetical cases, as all reports on the science and ethics of this issue agree. Thus, creating GM babies, with all the risks to both the child and society that it entails, can never be ethical. We fail to understand why scientists who know this perfectly well still insist in media interviews that genetic engineering is the only solution.
  4. Stop Designer Babies is not opposed to somatic gene therapy; we use the term ‘human genetic engineering’ in the same way that people speak of plant and animal genetic engineering, to indicate the genetic engineering of the germline (e.g. by engineering embryos) in a way that passes the changes on to all descendants of the person whose genome has been engineered.
  5. Advocates of human engineering sometimes claim that the idea of free market eugenics is a ‘scare story’. However, there are already aspects of such a system operating today, such as in the US egg donation market, where Ivy League students are paid 10 times more for their eggs than ordinary women. In the past two weeks, a US company, Genomic Prediction, has announced that it will be selling genetic tests on embryos that allow parents to avoid children with low IQ, whilst UK health minister, Matt Hancock, has announced the governments ambition to sequence the genomes of all British babies at birth, starting with a pilot of 20,000.
  6. The Commission’s remit can be found at: https://nas.edu/gene-editing/international-commission/statement-of-task/index.htm.
  7. For more details of the statement, agreed at a meeting of bioethicists, scientists and activists in Geneva earlier this year, please contact the Centre for Genetics and Society: darnovsky@geneticsandsociety.org.

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MEDIA RELEASE

For immediate release, March 14, 2019

Call for moratorium on GM babies is part of the problem, not part of the solution

New grassroots activist group Stop Designer Babies (1) today criticised the call of a group of scientists for a moratorium on the creation of GM babies, arguing that it is really part of a technocratic procedure for manipulating public opinion, in order to eventually permit them. Although a moratorium is better than the current trend towards legalisation, scientists’ self-regulation, lacking legal teeth, would be flouted by those scientists determined to go ahead, as has already been shown.

Since there is no medical need for this technology, a permanent global legal ban is therefore the only proper solution, but the Nature article actually opposes such a ban. It even fails to call for a ban on genetic ‘enhancement’, only stating that this would not be acceptable ‘at this time’. It also advocates the extremely dangerous eugenic ‘solution’ of widespread preconception screening, and ignores the many public statements of opposition to such a new eugenics by disabled people.

Stop Designer Babies warned that scientists would face a social backlash similar to that over GM foods, if it continued to push for these medically entirely unnecessary technologies.

David King, a member of the Stop Designer Babies group said, “Do not be fooled by another group of scientists and ethicists claiming to be ‘more responsible’ than rogue scientist He Jiankui. All they are trying to do is to bring the approval of this new technology back within the normal technocratic process for engineering public acceptance. There is absolutely no medical need for creating GM babies. But human genetic engineering would be a Weapon of Mass Social Destruction, especially in an era of rising right-wing authoritarianism. Only a global treaty banning cloned and genetically modified babies can halt the threat of a new eugenics.”

For more information, call +44 208 809 4513/+44 7854 256040.

Notes for editors

1. Stop Designer Babies is an international network of concerned citizens and activists seeking to prevent the legalisation and normalisation of designer babies, created following the news of the birth of the first GM babies in China. An organisation that supports the right of women to terminate their pregnancies, we seek an international ban on human germline genetic engineering and cloning.