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As we walked off the aeroplane in Hong Kong in November last year, on the eve of the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing, we had no idea that we were stepping into the epicentre of an unfolding human drama. Just hours earlier, He Jiankui had made his YouTube announcement claiming to have helped make genome-edited babies. As soon as we switched on our mobile phones, they started to vibrate furiously.

Two of us (R.Q. and X.Z.) worked until 4 o’clock the following morning, answering phone calls, helping China’s academic institutions and government agencies to respond to the event, and modifying our plenary presentations for the summit later that day.

In the months since, China’s scientists and regulators have been going through a period of soul-searching. We, our colleagues and our government agencies, such as the Ministry of Science and Technology and the National Health Commission, have reflected on what the incident says about the culture and regulation of research in China. We’ve also thought about what long-term strategies need to be put in place to strengthen the nation’s governance of science and ethics.

In our view, China is at a crossroads. The government must make substantial changes to protect others from the potential effects of reckless human experimentation. Measures range from closer monitoring of the nation’s hundreds of clinics offering in vitro fertilization (IVF), to incorporating bioethics into education at all levels.

Good luck with that. Ethics tends to take a back seat to strategic military and economic priorities. To read more, click here.



Category: Science