Controversial Chinese scientist who genetically modified babies could face the death penalty

He Jiankui

Chinese geneticist He Jiankui received a storm of criticism in 2018 after announcing in November that he had created the world’s first “genetically edited” babies.

The announcement generated several reactions at an international level, most of them condemning their studies for endangering the babies’ lives.

Shortly thereafter, in early December, the associate professor at the South University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China, disappeared from public life and several rumors surfaced that he would face different legal problems.

At present, it is known that he is living under armed surveillance in a department of the University, although his problems would be much greater. According to British geneticist Robin Lovell-Badge, the Chinese scientist could face charges of corruption and bribery, which carry the death penalty in China.

Chinese Scientist He Jiankui
He Jiankui has faced death threats after announcing that he and his team has “successfully” modified the genes of embryos. Wikimedia Commons.

According to the British newspaper The Telegraph, he can also face charges for violating established research guidelines, which he did when implanting genetically modified embryos into the mother. “There is an official investigation being conducted by the ministries of science and health,” Lovell-Badge told the Telegraph.

“It is likely that many people lose their jobs, he was not the only one involved in this, obviously. So, how did you manage to do all this work? You can be accused of all kinds of corruption allegations, and being guilty of corruption in China these days is not something you want,” he added.

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Chinese officials must determine the extent to which these collaborators knew about the project and its illegality to determine the guilt.

Although he is under armed surveillance, it is unclear if he is under house arrest or is being protected by the guards, since the scientist has faced death threats based on his statements.

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Andrei Santov

Andrei, a sociologist by profession, born in Russia but currently located in UK, covers mostly European and Russia-related news for The Talking Democrat.