In-Vitro Fertilization '3-Parent Baby' Gets Greenlit In UK, Opening Doors For Reproductive Rights

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The United Kingdom may soon be home to the world's first three-parent baby. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

On Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2015, British lawmakers made history when they voted in favor of a law to allow Britain to be the first nation to allow three-person in-vitro fertilization. While this revolutionary technique of pulling DNA from three parents could help to eliminate offspring from inheriting certain genetic disorders, critics of the procedure warn that it is the first step toward the creation of “designer babies” and are concerned of the unknown social consequences that may come from having the power to manipulate a child’s DNA.

The concept for creating a three-parent child has existed for years but until today has remained restricted to laboratory mice. Today, the British House of Commons allowed for the use of three-parent fertilization in the UK, with a vote 382 to 128, CNN reported. Three-parent in-vitro is designed to help prevent passing on a history of incurable mitochondrial conditions onto offspring, and in theory could eliminate certain diseases from the human genome completely.

Mitochondrial diseases are caused by the mutation of mitochondrial DNA. It’s believed that around 200 children in the UK and 6,500 children worldwide are born with mitochondrial diseases each year. These mutations often result in debilitating diseases such as muscular dystrophy, epilepsy, heart disease, and mental retardation, The Associated Press reported.

"Many of these (mitochondrial) conditions are so severe that they are lethal in infancy, creating a lasting impact upon the child's family," said Dr. Sally Davies, the UK’s chief medical officer in a statement, as reported by Medical Daily.

For example, the BBC reported on Sharon Bernardi, an English woman who lost all seven of her children to mitochondrial disease.

"It's not about being selfish. It's not about wanting designer babies. It's not about doing injustice to people with disabilities. It's about trying to create a healthy baby. It's about trying to give a child a future," Bernardi said.

Mitochondrial DNA is passed along only from mother to child. Introducing a third person’s DNA into the fertilization process allows women who have a family history of genetic disorders to use un-mutated mitochondrial DNA from a third party. This would thus ensure that a child inherits all of its mother’s DNA, aside from the mutated mitochondrial.

Today’s parliamentary decision has been met with a mixture of opinion. Many expressed their approval of the law’s passing, such as Dr. Gillian Lockwood, the medical director of the Midland Fertility and a reproductive ethicist.

“The Parliamentarians’ ability to see  through the smoke screens of purported ‘ethical slippery slopes’ and ‘designer babies’ and offer hope to families afflicted with these cruel genetic diseases reveals a depth of compassion and courage that is a tribute to the Mother of Parliaments,” Lockwood explained in a press release.

Others are fairly concerned that such legislature could have dangerous consequences down the road. According to British lawmaker Fiona Bruce, today’s law passing has “let the genie out of the bottle.”

"Where will it lead? The answer has to be that we stop here. The answer has to be that we say this is a red line in our country, as in every other country in the world, that we will not cross," Bruce said during the 90-minute-long debate at the House of Commons, Reuters reported.

As of now, three-parent fertilization affects less than one percent of the child’s genome.

"It doesn't affect height, eye color, intelligence, musicality," Lockwood said, as reported by the BBC. "It is not part of what makes us genetically who we are."

Religious officials have their own reason for opposing the procedure, citing that it involves the purposeful destruction of human embryos. This is because in one particular technique of creating a three-person embryo, DNA extracted from two other embryos is used to help the third, The Telegraph reported. The two remaining embryos are left unable to survive the transfer.

The group, Human Genetics Alert, has a different reason for opposing the technique. They have recently expressed their fear of such legislature opening doors for the creation of children who are genetically modified to meet certain beauty or intelligence standards.

David King, a representative for the group commented that "Once you cross the ethical line, it is very hard not to take the next step of designer babies," the BBC reported.

For now, the plan is to go ahead and get this technology to couples that need it most, with Britain at the forefront of gene-altering technology.

“It is with great optimism that I look forward to the birth of the first baby girl to be born in the UK free from mitochondrial disease and from the shadow of transmitting the disease to her children,” Lockwood said.

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