For nearly two years, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics has run an independent inquiry on "heritable genome editing", which is when scientists modify eggs, sperm, or embryos that will then develop to become a person.
"Morally permissible" for genetically modified human embryos.
According to the report, editing human embryos, sperm, or eggs is "morally permissible" as long as the edit doesn't jeopardize the welfare of the future person (the one born from the edited embryo) or "increase disadvantage, discrimination, or division in society".
Genetic editing technologies could introduce a "radical new approach to reproductive choices", said the council in its report, which could then have significant impacts on society.
"There must be action now to support public debate and to put in place appropriate governance", the council added.
Genome editing techniques such as such as CRISPR/Cas9 enable the deliberate adjustment of a targeted DNA sequence in a living cell.
Critics of genome editing also have said that the ethics body's report opens the door for "designer babies", where parents alter the embryos DNA simply to create children with traits they deem desirable.
Genome editing is not now lawful in the United Kingdom (unless for research purposes), but the practice could theoretically be offered in future to parents wishing to change the genetic characteristics of their future child, such as excluding an heritable disease or a predisposition to cancer in later life. Commenting on the council's review of genome editing, Dr David King, Director of Human Genetics Alert, described its findings as "an absolute disgrace", noting decades-long worldwide bans on eugenic genetic engineering.
"There is still uncertainty over the sorts of things genome editing might be able to achieve, or how widely its use might spread", the council stated.
George Church, a Harvard University geneticist, who was not involved in the report, told The Guardian that he agreed with the report that editing DNA "should not be expected to increase disadvantage, discrimination, or division in society", but that making changes to some genes could save some babies from painful diseases.
The field has always been surrounded by controversy, with critics fearing that gene-editing could be used to create a generation of so-called "designer" babies.