Ministers in the UK have decided to amend their fertility laws to allow IVF babies to be conceived from three parents. The driving force behind this decision is to alleviate certain types of inherited diseases to be passed on to a newborn. The new technique would replace a small portion of a mother’s defective mitochondria with that of a healthy donor’s mitochondria. While the controversial topic is currently under public consultation, the decision has already been approved. The new procedure would technically result in three parents for each of these babies.
Despite being largely supported by the UK public a year ago, the draft regulations for the new IVF technique are just now being published. Once the new public consultation has ended, the regulations will still need to be addressed in Parliament. The HFEA, or Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, will make the final decision of each mitochondrial transfer procedure for each unique case.
Some of the factors the HFEA will consider when making their decision might include whether there is a significant risk for serious illness or disability. The anticipated number of couples, those most severely at risk, which are allowed to undergo this procedure is expected to be under ten each year. While technically the procedure will create three parents for the baby, some scientists refute that belief. Those in disagreement state that there is such a miniscule amount of DNA transfer between the donor’s egg and the mother it is not significant enough for the donor to be considered a third parent.
This type of research is also being conducted in the United States. Experts in genetics believe that it could possibly take a decade or more to conduct all necessary testing. Along with perfecting the procedures, there are safety issues to be considered. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently held a meeting to discuss findings, techniques and future research.
The goal for this fertilization procedure is to alleviate the possibility of passing on devastating genetic disorders. These disorders could severely impact not only a baby’s life, but the lives of the entire family. Women who carry mitochondrial diseases may pass those diseases on to their babies. Those babies affected by a mitochondrial disorder may suffer loss of sight, cardiac failure, wasting muscles, and nerve damage.
While there is still debate about the technicality of stating that these babies would have three parents, there is also a debate about the legality of the procedure. The decision to allow this technique would be one of historical proportions. To date, human genome modification has not been legalized by any government. In fact, many European countries actually ban these procedures.
There is also the consideration that manipulating these mitochondrial DNA may be medically unethical. The only advantage of the genetic manipulation of an egg over current egg donation procedures is that the resultant baby would be genetically related to the birth mother. The donor for the IVF procedure would be considered similar to an organ, egg, or sperm donor and remain anonymous. Anonymous or not and independent of the amount of DNA donated, the donor DNA would become part of the baby. The final result for the family would be the creation of a baby with three parents.
By Dee Mueller
The Washington Post