After Gene-Editing Uproar, China Poised to Adopt New Regulation

China is on the brink of adding human genes and embryos to the section of its civil code that protects personality rights, such as the right to physical well-being, freedom, privacy, and dignity. If the regulation is adopted, gene-editing experiments that endanger human health can be considered a violation of those rights.

The last-minute revision comes in the wake of the gene-editing experiments resulting in the birth of twin girls with altered DNA, conducted by Chinese biophysicist He Jiankui, PhD, in 2018. Dr. Jiankui was subsequently heavily criticized by Chinese authorities and dismissed from the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, but it is unclear whether he broke any laws existing in China at the time of his experiments.

“The law makes clear that those who do research with human genes and embryos cannot endanger human health or violate ethics,” Zhang Peng, a criminal-law scholar at Beijing Wuzi University, told Nature.

This latest draft of China’s civil code, which applies to manipulating genes in adults as well as embryos, is expected to be adopted in March of 2020. The country’s health ministry also has drafted regulations that would impose penalties for scientists who do not obtain approval before editing human embryos.

Source: Nature, May 20, 2019.