Genetic editing of human embryos

Sir, – Revd Patrick G Burke (Letters, August 5th) is absolutely correct to point out the serious human rights abuse involved in research where human embryos are treated as laboratory reagents to be killed when no longer useful.

We should bear in mind, however, that such experiments would be entirely legal in Ireland since the Supreme Court decided in the Roche case that human embryos created for IVF have no constitutional recognition or protection. This ruling, while pragmatic and convenient, shows scant respect for logic since the outcome is that embryos in the womb have absolute constitutional protection while those who happen to be in a different location (in a culture dish)have absolutely none; so unused IVF embryos can be discarded or used for experimentation in our country. Perhaps as part of the constitutional review in relation to the Eighth Amendment, this anomaly should also be considered.

It would be a pity, however, if the whole area of gene editing and its potential for the advancement of human welfare were to be rejected because of these abuses. If gene editing could be used to eliminate or correct disease-causing genes (such as cancer predisposition genes) in sperm, ova, or individual embryos, thus sparing the individual and their descendants from inherited disorders, this would surely be a worthwhile undertaking.

While the technology to do this may not be quite there yet, I believe it will be possible to do this before long and we should distinguish this clearly desirable application from unethical approaches which involve experimentation and destruction of embryos.


As reported in Home News (August4th) Dr Aisling De Paor points out the many other societal and ethical issues associated with gene editing in humans, including cost/access; using the technology for augmentation rather than defect correction, and respect for people with disabilities – all critically important and in need of wide debate; but we should address these issues up front, regulate appropriately and embrace the new technology for what it can do to improve people’s lives – but of course destruction of other individuals should not and need not be on the pathway to such treatments. – Yours, etc,


Professor Emeritus of


National Institute for

Cellular Biotechnology,

Dublin City University,

Dublin 9.

Sir, – Human gene editing might well be unethical, but I, for one, will not be applying to the religious for guidance on the matter. The Rev Patrick J Burke (August 5th) believes that human life begins at the moment of conception. I believe that what exists immediately after conception, and until the foetus becomes viable, is something that has the potential to become a person, in exactly the same way that a spermatozoon has the potential to become a person.

To be consistent, the Revd Burke and his religious colleagues should be calling for an outright ban on the use of condoms and other, similar, forms of contraception. But wait, the Catholic Church, at least, does have such a ban. It is just that most, if not all, of its adherents totally ignore it, and it has never managed to have it written into the Constitution of the State. – Yours, etc,


Windy Arbour, Dublin 14.