The recent birth of the first ever gene edited children raises imminent questions about the future of embryonic gene editing research. The use of the CRISPR-cas9 genome editing system (CRISPR) to edit embryonic cells initially raised widespread criticism and calls for an international ban on genome editing research based on concerns that research would inevitably lead to reproductive applications. Despite this, governments around the world are now reviewing the regulatory frameworks that oversee genetic technologies and embryonic gene editing research is progressing in some jurisdictions.
In Australia, although the use of genome editing in reproduction is clearly prohibited, the legality of embryonic gene editing research remains unclear. The Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction Act 2002(Cth) and the Research Involving Human Embryos Act 2002(Cth) expressly regulate the use of genome editing in early human embryos. In this paper we analyse how these two Acts regulate research involving CRISPR and the implications of this for research practices in Australia. We argue that, given the current regulatory uncertainty around the legality of genome editing research in Australia, legislative reform is needed. We propose some reforms that would provide greater clarity in this area and ensure the availability of suitable embryos to make gene editing research feasible.