XINHUA – SHENZHEN, Dec. 30 (Xinhua) — Chinese researcher He Jiankui and two others on Monday were convicted of illegal medical practice in a first-instance trial held in a district court in south China’s Shenzhen City, Guangdong Province.
In accordance with a ruling handed down by Nanshan District People’s Court of Shenzhen City, He was sentenced to three years in prison and fined 3 million yuan (about 430,000 U.S. dollars) for illegally carrying out human embryo gene-editing intended for reproduction, in which three genetically edited babies were born.
He used to be an associate professor with the Southern University of Science and Technology. Zhang Renli and Qin Jinzhou from two medical institutes in Guangdong Province received jail terms of two years and 18 months with a two-year reprieve, respectively, as well as fines, said the Nanshan District People’s Court in a verdict.
Public prosecutors said that the three, who were not qualified to work as medical doctors, had knowingly violated the country’s regulations and ethical principles to conduct gene editing in assisted reproductive medicine.
The prosecutors showed substantial evidence to prove He’s team fabricated an ethical review certificate and recruited eight volunteer couples (with men who tested positive for HIV) intending to produce HIV-immune babies. They implanted genetically-engineered embryos into the women’s body and impregnated two of them, who gave birth to three babies.
The three, whose acts were “in the pursuit of personal fame and gain” and have seriously “disrupted medical order,” should be punished, the court declared.
The three pleaded guilty during the trial.
He claimed in November 2018 that the world’s first genetically edited babies were born with their DNA altered to prevent them from contracting HIV. The news made a scientific splash and prompted an immediate investigation by authorities.
Experts strongly condemned their acts.
Human assisted reproductive technology must be conducted under tight supervision around the world, and what He and his team did was extremely irresponsible, said Zhou Canquan with the First Affiliated Hospital of Sun Yat-sen University.
Progress in medical technology should not be based on ignorance of health risks, Zhou stressed. “It is a consensus in the medical community to conduct research with moral principles.”
“What they did constitutes serious violations of the country’s laws and regulations,” said Professor Chen Xingliang of Law School with Peking University. “Even doctors with qualifications should not conduct anything violating laws and regulations.”
The health risks regarding gene-editing are yet to be evaluated, and technological, societal and moral aspects should be taken into consideration, said Zhou Qi, an academician with the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
“If the edited genes go into the human gene pool, the impact will be irreversible,” said Zhou, who suggested improving the country’s laws and regulations and enhancing punishment for violations.
“We hope that every doctor can stick to moral principles and respect laws and regulations,” said Qiao Jie, with the Chinese Academy of Engineering.