SHAFAQNA – Britain on Tuesday could become the first country to allow a “three-parent” IVF technique which doctors say will prevent some inherited incurable diseases but which critics see as a step towards creating designer babies.
The treatment is known as “three-parent” in vitro fertilisation (IVF) because the babies, born from genetically modified embryos, would have DNA from a mother, a father and from a female donor.
It is designed to help families with mitochondrial diseases, incurable conditions passed down the maternal line that affect around one in 6,500 children worldwide.
Parliament will vote on the technique, called mitochondrial donation, later on Tuesday. It would be a medical world first for Britain but is fiercely disputed by some religious groups and other critics.
The process involves intervening in the fertilisation process to remove mitochondria, which act as tiny energy-generating batteries inside cells, and which, if faulty, can cause inherited conditions such as fatal heart problems, liver failure, brain disorders, blindness and muscular dystrophy.
Mitochondrial DNA is separate from DNA found in the cell nucleus and does not affect human characteristics such as hair or eye colour, appearance or personality traits.
International charities, advocacy groups and scientists urged Britain to pass laws to allow the treatment, saying it brought a “first glimmer of hope” for some families of having a baby who could live without suffering.
“A vote in favour of these regulations will enable progress in life-saving treatments and give hope to hundreds of families in the UK and internationally,” said Aisling Burnand, chief executive of the Association of Medical Research Charities.
“No medical advance is without risk. However, the robust scientific evidence, positive ethical opinion and broad public support for these regulations mean the time is now right.”
In an open letter to lawmakers, 11 international campaign groups including the U.S. United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation described the condition as “unimaginably cruel”.
“It strips our children of the skills they have learned, inflicts pain that cannot be managed and tires their organs one by one until their little bodies cannot go on any more,” they wrote.
Critics say the technique will lead to the creation of genetically modified “designer babies”.
Members of parliament have been given a free vote on the proposed new laws after their debate later on Tuesday.
Lawmaker Jacob Rees-Mogg said he would vote against.
“At the moment there is a very clear boundary that babies cannot be genetically altered, and once you’ve decided that they can, even for a small number of genes, you have done something very profound,” he told BBC radio.
David King, director of a pro-choice campaign group, Human Genetics Alert, urged others to follow Rees-Mogg’s example to protect “everyone from the eugenic designer baby future that will follow from this.”
(Additional reporting by Kate Holton; Editing by Janet Lawrence)