A subcommittee in the United States House of Representatives has approved a bill that would prohibit the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) from using federal funding to evaluate research or clinical applications of genetically modified human embryos. In addition to this, it would also force the FDA to form a new committee that includes religious leaders to review an upcoming report on the ethics of creating three-parent embryos.
The debate over modifying embryos reached boiling point earlier this year when Chinese scientists announced that in a world first they had successfully edited the genomes of human embryos. While there are already laws in place to prevent the federal government from funding research that either makes humans embryos or destroys them, there are no laws to prevent privately funded research from editing human germlines.
But this new bill seeks to make it harder to test any of this research out by preventing the FDA from using public money to permit research if it involves either viable embryos or sperm and eggs that could then go on to form an embryo.
In a bizarre twist, the bill in its current form wouldn’t actually prevent the research carried out in China that sparked the debate in the first place, as those scientists weren’t actually working on viable zygotes.
It doesn’t, however, stop there. When an application is given to the FDA to investigate a certain drug, they are all passed automatically unless the FDA moves to block it. If the bill were to pass and be made into law as it stands, it would – as stated earlier – prevent the agency from using any federal money to evaluate research into embryo editing, and this would include the blocking of applications.
The legislation also seeks to impose another layer of review into the FDA. Last year, the agency commissioned a report looking into the ethical and social implications of creating so-called “three-parent embryos,” developed to stop women with mitochondrial genetic diseases from passing them on to their children. The new law would mean that the FDA have to pass the report through a panel that includes a religious specialist in order for it to be approved.
The bill has so far been passed by a subcommittee, but would need to win full support from the House of Representatives, the Senate and the President before it could be made into law. Political pundits suggest that this is probably just the Republican majority in congress trying to appease their supporters.