Gene editing that endangers human health or violates ethical norms will be considered a violation of a person’s fundamental rights.
The Chinese government is preparing to issue a revised version of its civil code, the country’s legal framework governing non-criminal disputes in areas such as marriage, inheritance and personal rights. Following the announcement in November 2018 by Chinese biophysicist He Jiankui that he had performed gene editing on human embryos, last-minute changes to the code were incorporated to address gene editing in humans.
Human genes and embryos are now included in a section of the code listing protected personality rights and guaranteeing a person’s right to physical well-being, freedom, privacy and dignity. As a result, any gene editing in adults or embryos that endangers the individual’s health, or violates ethical norms qualifies as a violation of the fundamental rights of the person involved—which means that the scientists performing the experiments are thus responsible for any adverse outcomes.
The latest version of the civil code, which has been under revision since 2002, was sent to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress in April and is expected to be adopted in March 2020.
Separate regulations drafted in March by the health ministry make it a requirement for researchers to gain approval from the ministry prior to conducting gene editing experiments with human embryos. It includes penalties for those that don’t comply with the rules.