Can China’s New Criminal Law Deter the Next He Jiankui?

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The latest edition of China’s criminal law formally came into effect March 1. The updated code includes a range of new legal provisions, from making it a crime to insult Communist Party martyrs, to tougher punishments for those who sexually assault certain minors. Scientists, too, have reason to brush up on their legal knowledge: A new section dedicated to “illegal medical practices” was added beneath Article 336, outlawing “the implantation of genetically edited or cloned human embryos into human or animal bodies, or the implantation of genetically edited or cloned animal embryos into human bodies.”

It’s hard not to draw a connection between the new language and China’s 2018 gene-editing scandal. On Nov. 26, 2018, He Jiankui, a researcher at the Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech) in Shenzhen, announced in an interview with The Associated Press that his team had helped a Chinese couple give birth to genetically edited twin girls. The father was HIV-positive, and the embryos’ genomes had been edited in an effort to confer genetic resistance to HIV.

The news quickly kicked off a...

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