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New Zealand: Germline / Embryonic

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Germline gene editing banned at least until more research is completed.

Germline editing is banned in New Zealand under guidelines set by the Health Research Council of New Zealand. As part of the Research Ethics Guidelines, the agency concluded in 2018, “there is insufficient knowledge about the possible consequences, hazards and effects on future generations” of germline gene editing. Implanting genetically modified embryos is also banned by the Human Assisted Reproductive Technology (HART) Act 2004. Although ‘genetically modified’ is not defined in the act, the Royal Society of New Zealand’s gene editing panel considers gene editing genetic modification. There is ongoing discussion among scientists about whether germline gene editing should be allowed.



Regulatory Timeline

2019: An international group of researchers, including some from New Zealand, call for a global moratorium on clinical uses of germline editing after a Chinese scientist genetically edited embryos during fertility treatments and at least two of those embryos were carried to term.

2017: Royal Society of New Zealand’s gene editing panel releases Gene Editing in a Healthcare Context, which considers the social, cultural, legal and economic implications of gene-editing technologies for New Zealand and summarizes current regulations for human gene editing.

2017: Royal Society of New Zealand creates a gene editing panel to facilitate discourse and research surrounding gene editing technologies.

2004: Advisory Committee on Assisted Reproductive Technology (ACART) established as part of the Human Assisted Reproductive Technology (HART) Act 2004 and is responsible for establishing guidelines for fertility procedures and research. The HART Act prohibits the implantation of genetically modified embryos.

2001: Royal Commission on Genetic Modification calls for the establishment of a bioethics committee to decide whether germline gene therapy should be allowed or banned.

1996: Environmental Protection Authority releases the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act 1996, establishing regulations for the creation and release of non-native (including genetically modified) organisms into New Zealand. The Royal Commission on Genetic Modification decides that research involving genetic modification of human cells is also covered by this Act.

NGO Reaction


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Human / Health Gene Editing Index
Compare Regulatory Restrictions Country-to-Country

Gene editing regulations worldwide are evolving. The Gene Editing Index ratings below represent the current status of gene editing regulations and will be updated as new regulations are passed.

Colors and ratings guide

Regulation StatusRating
Determined: No Unique Regulations*10
Lightly Regulated8
Proposed: No Unique Regulations†6
Ongoing Research, Regulations In Development5
Highly Regulated4
Mostly Prohibited2
Limited Research, No Clear Regulations1
Lightly Regulated: Gene and stem cell therapies regulated with minimal restrictions and requirements.
*Determined: No Unique Regulations: Gene and stem cell therapies regulated as phamaceuticals with no additional restrictions.

†Proposed: No Unique Regulations: Decrees under consideration for gene and stem cell therapies that would not require unique regulations beyond current restrictions on pharmaceuticals.

Gene editing of adult human cells, including gene therapy and stem cell therapy, that is used to treat and cure disease. Recent breakthroughs include CAR T-cell therapy, which uses patients’ own immune cells to treat their cancer.
Gene editing of the human embryo or germline that results in genetic changes that are passed down to the next generation. This type of gene editing is the most controversial because changes are inherited and because it could theoretically be used to create “designer babies”. A Chinese scientist announced in 2018 that he had successfully edited twins that were brought to term. International backlash from the announcement has resulted in China and other countries working to clarify regulations on germline gene editing.

Rating by Country / Region
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Country / RegionTherapeuticGermlineHuman Rating
New Zealand402
Central America111
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Gene editing is a set of techniques that can be used to precisely modify the DNA of almost any organism. It is being used for applications in human health, gene drives and agriculture. There are numerous gene-editing tools besides CRISPR-Cas 9, which gets most of the attention because it is a comparatively easy tool to use.

Gene editing does not usually involve transgenics – moving ‘foreign’ genes between species. It also refers to a specific technique in contrast to the general term GMO, which is scientifically ambiguous, as genetic modification is a process not a product. Most gene editing involves creating new products by deleting very small segments of DNA (sometimes in agriculture called Site-Directed Nuclease 1 or SDN-1 techniques), which can silence a gene or change a gene’s activity. Countries are evaluating whether or not to regulate this type of gene editing, since it is so similar to natural mutations. The GLP’s Gene Editing Index ratings reflect the regulatory status of SDN-1 techniques, which are the most liberally regulated and will generate most products in the near term.

To develop different products, gene editing can change larger segments of DNA or add DNA from other species (a form of transgenics sometimes in agriculture called SDN-2 or SDN-3 techniques). While many countries are not regulating or lightly regulating SDN-1 techniques, most are moving toward tightly regulating or even restricting SDN-2 and SDN-3.

For more background on the various gene editing SDN techniques, read background articles here and here.