Picture of DNA

What do recent advances in molecular genetics have to do with human rights? Quite a lot, it turns out. And key human rights documents have recognized this for some time.

Over the past few years, new “gene editing” tools that are cheaper, easier to use, and more accurate than previous ways to change living organisms’ DNA have rapidly spread to labs around the world. Scenarios that previously seemed far-fetched or far off now confront us, including the prospect of directly controlling the genes and traits that are passed down to future children and generations. Since 2015, a half dozen research teams, in China, the UK, and the United States, have separately reported efforts to modify specific genes in human embryos. These developments have brought us to a critical juncture: human reproductive gene editing now poses a threat to the human rights of future generations.

Gene editing for human reproduction carries huge social risks. It has the potential to threaten the health and autonomy of future generations, to exacerbate existing social disparities, and to lay the basis for a new market-based...