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Heritable human genome editing is ‘currently not permitted’, but it is no longer ‘prohibited’: so says the ISSCR
  1. Françoise Baylis
  1. Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
  1. Correspondence to Professor Françoise Baylis, Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS B3H 4R2, Canada; Francoise.baylis{at}


The Guidelines for Stem Cell Research and Clinical Translation, recently issued by the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR), include a number of substantive revisions. Significant changes include: (1) the bifurcation of ‘Category 3 Prohibited research activities’ in the 2016 Guidelines into ‘Category 3A Research activities currently not permitted’ and ‘Category 3B Prohibited research activities’ in the 2021 guidelines and (2) the move of heritable human genome editing research out of the ‘prohibited’ category and into the ‘currently not permitted’ category. These changes are noteworthy because of the absence of a clear demarcation line between the two categories insofar as, by definition, that which is ‘prohibited’ is ‘currently not permitted’, and vice versa. Permanence is not part of the definition of ‘prohibition’. In principle, a prohibition can be rescinded at any time. This begs the question ‘Why make a policy change that has no apparent practical effect?’ One hypothesis is that the recategorisation of specific ‘prohibited’ research activities as ‘currently not permitted’ is meant to seed intuitions about which prohibited research activities should ‘soon’ be permitted subject to specialised scientific and ethics review and approval.

  • ethics- research
  • embryo research
  • genetic engineering
  • policy

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  • Twitter @FrancoiseBaylis

  • Contributors FB is the sole author.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests FB was a member of the Planning Committee for the First International Summit on Human Gene Editing held in December 2015 and a member of the WHO Expert Advisory Committee on Developing Global Standards for Governance and Oversight of Human Genome Editing from 2019 to 2021. She is a member of a Working Group to inform the development of a WHO Global Guidance Framework to Harness the Responsible Use of the Life Sciences, May to September 2021, and a member of the Planning Committee for the Third International Summit on Human Genome Editing to be held in March 2022.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.