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In their single-minded venture of “producing” (shengchan, in their own word) the world’s first gene-edited babies, He Jiankui and his associates have posed numerous and daunting ethical challenges to China and the world. They can be mapped or identified through these four categories:

  • typical problems related to research ethics;
  • broader political, socio-cultural, and transcultural issues;
  • fundamental ethical questions on the use of gene editing in human reproduction itself; and
  • even more fundamental matters on the moral goals of science and technology.

Different levels of ethical issues should be explored in an interconnected and interdisciplinary approach, but it is important to note that ethical soundness on one dimension does not mean moral justification on any other level or dimension.

Some prominent U.S. scientists, including George Church at Harvard, have offered a defence of He’s human experimentation on two grounds. First, genetically editing humans can be ethically justifiable. Second, the international community and Chinese society are bullying He for having not done “the paperwork right.” Church says he feels “an obligation to be balanced” about He’s case. Some international and Chinese...