Chinese Scientist Behind CRISPR Babies Could Face Death Penalty

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Regardless of whether you consider the CRISPR baby project as a step forward for science or playing god with the genetic material of humans, it appears that people should be more concerned at the fate of the scientist behind the project.

He Jiankui is the Chinese scientist behind the CRISPR baby project recently reported on by the Inquisitr. However, a fellow British scientist fears that Jiankui could risk the death penalty for his involvement with the CRISPR project, according to the Telegraph.

British geneticist Robin Lovell-Badge of the Francis Crick Institute in London is worried that Jiankui could face corruption and bribery charges which, in China, “can incur the death penalty.” This is on top of the fact that he broke guidelines which “ban genetically altered embryos being implanted into a human.” While these guidelines are not actually laws, experts do consider them as legally binding.

Not long after He Jiankui made the announcement at a genetics conference in Hong Kong that he had genetically altered embryos and implanted them into women, the Chinese scientist went into hiding. According to Lovell-Badge, Jiankui is currently staying at a university-owned apartment in Shenzhen, China, that is heavily guarded by security. Currently, it is unclear whether that security is present to protect Jiankui or whether he is actually under house arrest. Lovell-Badge suspects both.

In the meantime, an official investigation is being held.

“There is an official investigation led by the ministries of science and health. Lots of people are probably going to lose their jobs, he wasn’t the only one involved in this obviously. So how has he got them to do all this work? He could be had up on all sorts of charges of corruption and being guilty of corruption in China these days is not something you want to be. Quite a few people have lost their heads for corruption.”

Lovell-Badge was the scientist who originally invited Jiankui to the conference in Hong Kong. The British scientist had learned that Jiankui “was up to something” and invited him to the genetics conference in the hope that other scientists present might help Jiankui “control his urges.” Of course, once Jiankui made the announcement that he had genetically altered and implanted embryos, it was realized the Chinese scientist was not merely dabbling in this technology.

“He really thought that he was doing good, that what he was doing was the next big thing, and really important for the good of mankind,” said Prof Lovell-Badge at a briefing in central London on the matter.

“Pretty much everyone he talked to had said ‘don’t do it.’ We’d heard he had ethical approval, so we were getting scared. But clearly it was all too late. Here you have a physicist who knows little biology, is very rich, has a huge ego, wants to be the first at doing something that will change the world.”