German Ethics Council statement about germline intervention overlooks current use of embryos in this line of research
The German Ethics Council also states that any appropriate assessment of germline interventions must go beyond a mere risk-benefit analysis and consider the following ethical concepts: human dignity, protection of life and integrity, freedom, non-maleficence and beneficence, naturalness, justice, solidarity and responsibility.
In its Opinion, the Ethics Council applies these concepts to different areas where germline interventions might be used. These include the research process that must precede any clinical application, interventions to avoid serious monogenic hereditary diseases, interventions to reduce multifactorial disease risks, and the targeted improvement of human characteristics and abilities (enhancement).
Despite the consensus on the current need for political action, different positions exist with regard to some of these issues – within the German Ethics Council, too. For example, whilst all members agree that the human germline is not inviolable, not everyone agrees that germline interventions should be pursued. A large majority sees the further development and use of the technology as a legitimate ethical goal when aimed at avoiding or reducing genetically determined disease risks. For a few members, however, germline interventions do not offer sufficiently high-ranking benefits that could justify their potential disadvantages.
In order to render the essential questions, arguments and positions transparent and accessible for public and international discourse, the German Ethics Council has summarised them in a novel analytical toolkit. Possible decision pathways and their consequences are visualised in a decision tree (Deutch Etikart, 5/9/2019).
The ethical position of our Observatory
We agreee with the German Council but in our opinion, although a moratorium on the use of the germinal genetic edition seems necessary, this should include the protection of the embryo in all cases. The biological (see HERE) and anthropological status of the human embryo must be recognized and, consequently, their life must be protected from the moment of conception, which excludes the possibility of using them in research. We also consider ethically inacceptable genetic editing interventions in human embryos for the purpose of improvement or enhacement, which would suppose a transhumanist practice, contrary to respect for human dignity and nature.