Ban On Genetically Modified Babies Upheld By Congressional Committee : Shots - Health News A congressional committee has upheld a prohibition against the Food and Drug Administration considering using gene-edited embryos to establish pregnancies.

House Committee Votes To Continue Ban On Genetically Modified Babies

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Today a congressional committee voted to continue a federal ban on the creation of gene-edited babies in the United States. This comes amid an intense debate about whether the ban is blocking valuable medical research. And NPR health correspondent Rob Stein is in the studio now to explain. Hi, Rob.

ROB STEIN, BYLINE: Hey there, Ari.

SHAPIRO: First explain what this ban is.

STEIN: Yeah. So, Ari, about four years ago, Congress quietly imposed a ban that prohibits - this ban that prohibits the Food and Drug Administration from considering any proposals that involve using genetically modified human embryos to try to make babies. This is what prevents scientists in the United States from doing what that Chinese scientist did, you know, making the world's first gene-edited babies.

SHAPIRO: And why did this come up today?

STEIN: So, you know, most scientists condemn what that Chinese scientists did, but some are unhappy with this ban. And the reason is they say it's stifling what could be really important medical research. Gene-editing techniques like CRISPR could someday be shown to be a safe way to prevent lots of genetic disorders. And there's another kind of genetic modification of human embryos that some scientists in the United States would like to pursue right away. And that involves creating embryos with DNA from three different people, you know, these so-called three-parent babies.

SHAPIRO: Right, which are also very controversial.

STEIN: Yeah, they are. And the reason is that also involves making changes in DNA that can be passed down for generations, so it raises that prospect of designer babies. But many scientists think researchers should be allowed to pursue it as part of carefully designed studies just to see if it's safe because it could prevent devastating genetic disorders known as mitochondrial disorders. And the British government is allowing that sort of thing right now.

SHAPIRO: So if that's the background of the debate, take us to what's actually happening in Congress.

STEIN: Yeah, so what happened is last month, a subcommittee of the House of Representatives dropped the ban from a routine spending bill. And today that legislation came up for a full debate on the Hill. And it was a pretty emotional debate. Here's Nita Lowey, a Democrat from New York.

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NITA LOWEY: We have a moral obligation to allow advances in science so fewer parents will have to watch a child die.

STEIN: But the ban ended up being reinstated after Lowey and others, you know, acquiesced the arguments of Republicans like Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska.

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JEFF FORTENBERRY: The risks of harm are real.

SHAPIRO: This was just the committee. What happens now? Does it go to the full House?

STEIN: Yeah, so the advocates for dropping the ban say they are going to continue to push for that. And they hope it does get pulled when the legislation finally hits the floor. But, you know, the chances are probably pretty slim for them succeeding at this point.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Rob Stein following the debate over gene-edited babies. Thanks for your reporting, Rob.

STEIN: You bet, Ari.

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