On 3rd February 2015, MPs in the House of Commons made a historic vote on three-parent babies and the reformation of the 2008 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act.
With an overwhelming vote of 382 to 128 in favour of a change to the law, this decision may lead to Britain becoming the first country to permit the conception of IVF babies with DNA from three different people to avoid certain inherited diseases.
The controversial technique, known as mitochondrial donation, has faced strong opposition from various quarters, including pro-life groups and some Church leaders.
Josephine Quintavalle, of the pro-life group Comment on Reproductive Ethics, said the vote was a “sad, sad day for both science and ethics in the United Kingdom”.
The Reverend Brendan McCarthy, Church of England adviser on medical ethics, said there should be no ‘rush’ to make a decision over the ethics of the issue: “We need to be absolutely clear that the techniques that will be used will be safe, and we need to be absolutely sure that they will work.”
However, scientists, charity leaders and many parent groups have welcomed the move, which offers the possibility of reducing suffering and saving countless lives.
Mr James Nicopoullos, Consultant Gynaecologist at The Lister Hospital, London, commented on the new legislation: “Mitochondria are tiny energy-generating structures in our cells, which are essential for all our cells to work. They are inherited from our mother and when faulty can have devastating effects, predominately on the organs that need high level of energy to function, such as the brain, heart, kidneys, muscles and liver.
“Mitochondrial diseases are often extremely debilitating, inevitably progressive and lead to muscle weakness, blindness, deafness, dementia, major organ failure and often death at an early age.
While many questions about mitochondrial donation cannot be answered until the treatment is put into practice, the carefully legislated process will offer hope to the thousands of parents in the UK who may have children born with life-threatening diseases.
Mr Nicopoullos adds, “Although we understand the ethical and moral concerns that such advances raise, this legislation follows an extensive independent consultation process by the fertility regulatory body (HFEA) who published three scientific review documents outlining that this procedure is not unsafe.
“Mitochondrial DNA make up only a tiny proportion of our genes (probably <0.1%) and are only involved in energy production and determine no other characteristics. It is the DNA in the nucleus of our cells that shapes our characteristics, personality traits and make us the people we are, and this would be unaffected by these treatments.
“The process of transferring a healthy nucleus from an embryo containing unhealthy mitochondria to a donor’s embryo containing healthy mitochondria (but with the nucleus removed) will offer hope to the parents of the 1 in 6500 children born in the UK with a life-threatening and often terrible debilitating disease.”
How do you feel about the vote in favour of mitochondrial donation? Is this a step towards a healthier and happier society, or a case of scientists ‘playing God’? Please share your views by commenting in the box below.