Subscribe to the BioNews newsletter for free

Advanced Search

Search for

Like the Progress Educational Trust on Facebook


Canadian scientists call for end to criminal ban on germline genome-editing

13 November 2017

By Rachel Siden

Appeared in BioNews 926

Members of Canada's Stem Cell Network have called for the country to re-examine its laws banning genome editing research on the human germline.

At present in Canada there is a maximum prison sentence of 10 years or a fine of up to CA$500,000 (£300,000) for editing human embryos, or egg or sperm cells.

Canadian policy has been to shut down discussion of germline gene editing, said Stem Cell Network member Professor Bartha Knoppers, director of the Centre of Genomics and Policy at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

'We need to start to talk,' Professor Knoppers said at the Till & McCulloch Meetings, a stem cell and regenerative medicine conference, the National Post reported.

All editing of the human germline – including non-clinical research on human embryos that will not be implanted – has been prohibited in Canada since the Assisted Human Reproduction Act of 2004. It was established in the context of public concerns about cloning research. However, the speakers argued that these concerns have been exaggerated, and are not about basic research.

'It's a human reproduction law, it was never meant to ban and slow down and restrict research,' said Dr Vardit Ravitsky, a bioethicist from the University of Montreal, also at the conference. 'It's a sort of historical accident…and now our hands are tied.'

In a statement earlier this year, Professor Knoppers, Dr Ravitsky and colleagues argued that the Canada's policy must be revisited, due to a shift in public perceptions and the potential applications of the technology.

In the statement, the researchers proposed that non-clinical germline genome editing should be allowed in Canada. They also argued that criminalisation is not a suitable form of regulation for scientific research, and that the justification for the current policy should be re-examined. Lastly, they proposed that possible clinical applications of germline genome editing should be considered with a 'principled and pragmatic approach'.

At the conference, Professor Knoppers encouraged the Canadian government's department of health, Health Canada, to begin public consultations on the proposals.

National Post | 08 November 2017
Regenerative Medicine | 05 January 2017


13 November 2017 - by Dr Calum MacKellar 
On the 20th anniversary of the of the 1997 European Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine (Oviedo Convention), the Council of Europe Committee on Bioethics organised an international conference entitled ‘Relevance and Challenges’ last month in Strasbourg, France...

21 August 2017 - by Giulia Cavaliere 
Picture this - it's the last day in the office before the summer holidays, you're looking forward to some sunshine and warmth, email auto-response set, and all ready to go. Then, all of a sudden: the news...
03 July 2017 - by Annabel Slater 
'This technology really gets the imagination going. It's almost anything that you could imagine wanting to control at the level of genetics, is now in principle within reach.' And the power to control evolution raises important questions of responsibility. This is the message of Professor Jennifer Doudna...
31 October 2016 - by Jennifer Willows 
The Nuffield Council on Bioethics presented its preliminary report 'Genome editing: an ethical review' in the genteel surroundings of the Royal Geographical Society in South Kensington...

Be the first to have your say.

You need to or  to add comments.

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions

- click here to enquire about using this story.

Published by the Progress Educational Trust


Public Conference
8 December 2017

Speakers include

Professor Azim Surani

Professor Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz

Professor Robin Lovell-Badge

Sally Cheshire

Professor Guido Pennings

Katherine Littler

Professor Allan Pacey

Dr Sue Avery

Professor Richard Anderson

Dr Elizabeth Garner

Dr Andy Greenfield

Dr Anna Smajdor

Dr Henry Malter

Vivienne Parry

Dr Helen O'Neill

Dr César Palacios-González

Philippa Taylor

Fiona Fox

Sarah Norcross

Sandy Starr


Good Fundraising Code

Become a Friend of PET HERE and give the Progress Educational Trust a regular donation