The CRISPR Scientist, He Jiankui, Speaks Out About Death Penalty Claims

As yet, the only law Jiankui has broken relates to the implantation of a modified embryo.

Image of a DNA string
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As yet, the only law Jiankui has broken relates to the implantation of a modified embryo.

After reading papers overnight regarding the possibility of the death penalty for his involvement as the head of the CRISPR baby project, Chinese scientist He Jiankui comes forward.

As previously reported by the Inquisitr, He Jiankui is a Chinese scientist who recently made the announcement that he had been involved with a project that saw the genetic modification of embryos which were then successfully transplanted into women. Currently, scientific guidelines prohibit such scientific experiments.

In addition, a British scientist who was originally involved with inviting Jiankui to the genetics conference in Hong Kong back in November of last year became concerned that Jiankui was under house arrest and was, potentially, in danger of facing the death penalty. British geneticist Robin Lovell-Badge of the Francis Crick Institute in London was concerned that the Chinese scientist could face the death penalty for potential corruption and bribery charges, as reported by the Telegraph.

However, overnight, He Jiankui has responded to these claims, according to Inverse. Speaking to BBC 4 Radio, Robin Lovell-Badge spoke on behalf of Jiankui regarding the recent reports about his safety and the potential death penalty.

“Well, he read the newspapers that came out overnight, which suggested that he may face the death penalty, so he sent me an email overnight to say that he’s fine,” Lovell-Badge told Today. “I think he’s obviously trying to build up his own case to defend his actions.”

In addition to updating everyone regarding the Chinese scientist’s current position, Lovell-Badge also spoke out further about the claims that He Jiankui would be facing the death penalty.

“It’s only the laws which would govern implanting a genetically altered embryo back into a woman,” Lovell-Badge said.

“He’s clearly broken that. But, there’s no penalty described in that law. He’s being investigated by Chinese authorities, so it’s the Chinese Ministry of Sciences and of Health and we have to wait and see what their conclusions are.”

Lovell-Badge also clarified why Jiankui could be facing bribery and corruption charges, which can result in the death penalty under Chinese law. Basically, He is a physicist, and in order to have a woman implanted with a genetically modified embryo, many other people would have to be involved. Obstetricians, as well as other doctors, would have likely been involved with the CRISPR baby project. In addition, Lovell-Badge also pointed out that a journalist from the Associated Press had been following the story for a month prior to it breaking. He also had a PR consultant advising him. All of these people could be considered complicit in the experiment, leading to the potential of corruption or bribery charges.

However, for now, it appears that it is a waiting game as Chinese authorities investigate this case further.