A Chinese scientist and a pair of researchers who claim to have created the first genetically edited babies were sentenced to prison for violating the country’s research standards and for practicing medicine without a license.
The Epoch Times reported that He Jiankui was sentenced to three years in prison and fined the equivalent of $430,000 in a Shenzhen court December 30.
The Times, citing China’s official Xinhua News Agency, also noted that the other two researchers, Zhang Renli and Qin Jinzhou, received lesser sentences and fines.
The paper reported further:
The verdict said the three defendants had not obtained qualification as doctors, pursued fame and profits, deliberately violated Chinese regulations on scientific research and crossed an ethical line in both scientific research and medicine, according to Xinhua. It also said they had fabricated ethical review documents.
The court also noted that the scientists were involved in the births of three genetically edited babies that belong to two women. In addition, the court said that all three of the scientists pleaded guilty during their trial, which Xinhua noted was not public due to concerns over privacy.
Mind you, it’s not that the Communist Chinese government is really concerned about the privacy of citizens. What’s more likely in this case is that evidence presented during trial was embarrassing to the government or revealing of secrets Beijing’s leaders did not want made public.
In any event, lead researcher He jolted the global scientific community when he claimed in November 2018 that he had changed the embryos of twin girls who were born the same month in exclusive interviews with The Associated Press.
The claims ignited a worldwide debate regarding the ethics of gene editing and alteration. He noted that he’d used a dangerous tool known as CRISPR in an attempt to disable a gene that allows the AIDS virus to permeate a cell so that the twin girls would have the ability to resist infection. (Related: CRISPR gene editing lies exposed by genomics expert: The ‘official’ narrative is just another GMO myth.)
Who the twins are has not been revealed publicly, nor any information regarding the success or failure of the experiment.
Other medical and scientific researchers have experimented with the CRISPR tool in adults to treat various diseases. However, many scientists were critical of He’s work and questioned the medical necessity of the experiment, as well as whether it was an ethical procedure, since any genetic changes could be passed down to future generations.
The U.S. does not permit the editing of embryos except for lab research, the Times reported.
He told the AP last year that he strongly believed it was necessary to conduct the experiment as an example and that society would judge whether or not the practice should be allowed thereafter.
Shortly after he made his announcement, he disappeared from the public’s eye after apparently being detained by Chinese authorities.
It’s not clear whether He’s three-year sentence includes time already served in custody.
One Chinese scientists said he believes that He’s punishment should have been harsher as a deterrent to others who might want to try the experiment. Kehkooi Kee, a Tsinghua University researcher who conducts gene-editing research on stem cells, also noted that He ought to be held to account for any fallout or negative effects from the experiment on the babies.
Stanford University bioethicist Dr. William Hurlbut, whose advice He sought for longer than one year before conducting his experiment, said he had empathy for the jailed researcher, his wife and two young daughters.
“I warned him things could end this way, but it was just too late,” Hurlbut said in an email to the AP and the director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, Dr. Francis Collins, and gene-editing pioneer Jennifer Doudna at the University of California–Berkeley.
“Sad story — everyone lost in this,” he continued.
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