He Jiankui, who claims to have "successfully produce" gene-edited babies, yesterday showed up and spoke at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing held at the University of Hong Kong, becoming a focus of attention.
He Jiankui's "springing into fame with a single move" is not because his research results bring certain positive benefit to human society and health. On the contrary, his crazy conduct, which violates national regulations on scientific and technological research and code of ethics, causes great unnerving, disgusting and even fear toward related researches. Academics and organisations in genome research home and aboard have strongly condemned and criticised his move. As a scientific researcher, He Jiankui should feel ashamed and guilty about it, and furthermore must take up legal and moral responsibilities for all consequences caused and accept due punishments.
In the past few days, the National Health Commission, Ministry of Science and Technology, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, Chinese Academy of Engineering and other departments have each respectively made its response to and clarify its stand on the issue, pointing out that the state always attaches importance to and safeguard people's right to health. Medical researches and activities must be pursued in accordance with relevant laws and regulations and code of ethics, and any law- or regulation-breaking conduct must be investigated and dealt with resolutely.
Relevant national, provincial and municipal departments' reactions and actions are timely and necessary. This "gene-edited babies" incident disgraces scientific research works and what is more, causes great harm to the reputation of the nation's scientific research. In the past, anti-China elements in the West kept cooking up and spreading stories about China violating international cade of medical ethics and regulations by selling human organs and manipulating the gender of babies. Now such a story about He Jiankui's "successfully producing gene-edited babies" is exactly like supplying ammunition to those who smear China regarding medical care issues, the influence being extremely bad.
Right now, the incident must be investigated and dealt with from three perspectives. Whoever responsible must not be allowed to slipped away unpunished or let off lightly.
Who, in the first place, is responsible for supervision in this incident? No doubt, human genome research is a research hotspot at present, which is of great significance for life sciences and not unlawful. Hence there is nothing to be said against He Jiankui personally conducting researches in this field. The problem lies in that authorities of science and technology, medical care and health in various countries including China have specifically stipulations that a genetic-engineered artificially fertilised egg can only be stored in a laboratory for no more than 14 days and must never be implanted in the mother's womb to be born. He Jiankui's "success in producing [gene-edited] babies" obviously violates relevant stipulations and is intolerable legally.
Secondly, what a role did the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen play in this incident and what was its responsibility? Was He's "producing babies" given the green light and supervised? He claimed there were seven couples participating in the experiment and the "cost" for each couple was 280,000 yuan. Where did he get the fund? The Southern University of Science and Technology said in the aftermath that it "knew nothing about it" and He's [experiment] was "his conduct outside school". This sounds just like a statement of excuse.
Thirdly, the incident not only violates laws and regulations and goes against the code of ethics but even likely involves illegal business operation and profit-making. This would be even more disgusting and unacceptable. If it is not strictly dealt with in accordance with the law, then in future a fetus' genome and gender could be changed with money. Eventually this might even lead to giving birth to "super babies" or "demonic babies". The consequences would be disastrous.
The incident shows that there are structural and supervisory loopholes in a couple of Mainland universities or research institutes, which even acquiesce in "murder for gain". Some individual researchers aim at gaining both fame and wealth and setting the world on fire, and for this they bury their conscience and morality, going to any length to do crazy and dangerous things. Both such institutions and individuals must be strongly condemned and held liable and their misdeeds be stopped.
29 November 2018