Viewpoints: Adding Gene-Editing in Draft Civil Law

April 20, 2019
Editor: Sandy Zhu

Viewpoints: Adding Gene-Editing in Draft Civil Law

Genetics research, conceptual artwork. [Photo provided to CHINA DAILY]

On Saturday, a new item was added to China's draft civil law, which puts all medical and scientific research related to human genes and embryos under stricter regulation. Two experts shared their views with China Daily's Zhang Zhouxiang:

One major change this time is that embryos are clearly included in the draft regulation. Actually, gene-editing of embryos deserves more attention than gene-editing of adults or children.

First, gene-editing of embryos might more easily get out of control and pose more risks to the society. The safety of gene-editing for embryos remains unknown and the availability limit of the technology needs to be confirmed.

The birth of the twin gene-edited babies in November 2018 sounded an alarming bell to all. If the embryos with edited genes are born, how should we protect their rights as citizens? Will they suffer from discrimination? Who will be responsible if the gene-editing causes health problems?

All these questions need answers. The draft amendment comes in time because, if passed, it will provide better regulations of the gene-editing activities over embryos.

Besides, the draft law did not list clearly the definition of gene-edited embryos. Technically speaking, if a fertilized egg is genetically edited and grows into an embryo, the total process should be considered gene-editing of embryo and put under the regulation of the law.

Zhang Dake, an associate researcher at Beijing Institute of Genomics, Chinese Academy of Sciences

In the past, "health rights" mainly referred to the right to stay healthy and free from injuries. The draft amendment this time follows the latest progresses in genetic technologies by extending its definition to cover genetic resources, and will be a guiding principle for relevant disputes in the future.

More importantly, the civil code is a guiding law for all laws in the civil sector. If the draft amendment passes, more related laws, regulations as well as standards will be amended or drafted in the future, which is a major progress in legislation.

A highlight of the draft amendment is the embryos. Currently domestic laws do not view embryos as independent persons, yet in judicial practices their personal rights are still under protection of law as part of the personal rights of their parents. If the draft amendment passes, embryos will enjoy better protection of rights in the future.

Xiu Minghe, a senior medical lawyer at Jingsh Law Firm


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