(CNN)Genetically-modified babies are "highly desirable" to help protect people from disease and could be created ethically within two years, according to a new scientific paper.
Gene editing now presents such low risks that it could be used in human embryos, according to an analysis by Kevin Smith, a bioethicist at Abertay University in Scotland, published last week in the journal Bioethics.
Advocates like Smith want to change the genetic makeup of embryos to prevent the transmission of gene-related diseases.
However, the practice is hugely controversial due to fears that it could be used to create "designer babies" whose genes have been edited for non-therapeutic purposes.
In November 2018 Chinese scientist He Jiankui sparked outrage after announcing he had created the first genetically-modified babies in the world from embryos altered to make them resistant to HIV.
But Smith says their creation is ethically justifiable and would offer hope to parents at risk of transmitting serious genetic disease to their offspring, according to a statement.
From a "utilitarian standpoint" genetic modification is the "only conceivable way" to deal with multiple disease-associated genes in an embryo, according to Smith.
Genetic modification would allow doctors to protect future people against cardiovascular disease, cancer and dementia, as well as other common illnesses, said Smith.
"If several common disorders could be avoided or delayed by genetically modifying humans, the average disease-free lifespan could be substantially extended," he said in a press statement.
Smith recommends delaying genetic modification programs because right now "society is largely opposed to genetically modifying humans."
Still, he believes an ethical attempt to produce genetically-modified babies could be less than two years away.