Op-Ed

Gloved hands moving small test tubes from one test tube rack to another

The fierce global controversy over whether to alter the genes of future children and generations just got fiercer. On the eve of a high-profile scientific meeting in Hong Kong on human gene editing, the Chinese researcher and biotech entrepreneur He Jiankui announced he had already created genetically modified humans, twin girls born a few weeks ago.

The reckless actions of one scientist cannot and should not pre-empt the global public conversation over whether to proceed with reproductive germline editing, as the procedure is known. In fact, the conversation is now more urgent and necessary than ever. There’s a huge amount at stake for all of us.

As knowledge of human genetics grew during the decades around the turn of the millennium, policymakers in dozens of countries came to agree that developing safe, effective gene therapies for sick people should be strongly supported, and that “germline” or “heritable” genetic modification, which would threaten fundamental human rights and equality, should be put off limits. The clearest and most forceful expression of that view was the Council of Europe’s 1997 Convention on...