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Consultation on 'three-parent babies' launched

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The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has this week launched a public consultation on whether a new IVF technique should be used to create ‘three-parent babies’ to prevent certain hereditary disorders from being transferred from women to their children.

The controversial technique, which can only be used for research purposes under current legislation, involves transferring the parents' DNA into a donor egg, meaning a third party will leave a genetic imprint on any resulting child.

The technique is aimed at stopping diseases being passed down through families through faulty mitochondria, structures which supply power to cells.

Criticism  

But the treatment has been heavily criticised for raising serious ethical concerns since any child born using the technique will effectively have three, instead of two, genetic parents.

Dr. Calum MacKellar, Director of Research of the Scottish Council on Human Bioethics, said:  “You cannot just reduce a parent to the DNA provider since the definition of a biological parent is a person who participated in creating the life of a child.

“In this case there are actually multiple biological parents who would all have special bonds with the prospective child. It is ‘who creates who’ that matters for the eventual parent-child bond, not the manner in which the child was created.

“The procedure has not been sufficiently thought through from an ethical perspective."

Dr Peter Saunders, CEO of the Christian Medical Fellowship, warned that the IVF-based technique would also result in thousands of unused human embryos being destroyed, and also significantly alter the way in which society views those already living with mitochondrial disorders.

“This is not about finding a cure. It is about preventing people with MCD being born. We need first to be clear that these new technologies, even if they are eventually shown to work, will do nothing for the thousands of people already suffering from mitochondrial disease or for those who will be born with it in the future. 

“What does preventing those with mitochondrial disease being born say about how we value people already living with the condition?”

Josephine Quintavalle from campaign group Comment on Reproductive Ethics commented that the treatment went further than just being another form of IVF and would result in the wholesale “restructuring” of the way in which life is created.

She added:  “It goes much further. Although IVF might be considered artificial it is just a way of repeating what happens biologically, but this is a considerable step in a completely different direction where you are changing those building blocks forever.

"You are playing around with the building blocks and restructuring how human life is created."

The technique has also been criticised for carrying unknown risks and potentially leading to the creation of children with serious abnormalities and defects. 

Dr Saunders warned that any problems arising from the treatment would not only affect the children in question but also subsequent generations. 

“Any changes, or unpredicted genetic problems (mutations) will be passed to future generations. In general, the more manipulation needed, the higher the severity and frequency of problems in resulting embryos and feotuses."

Andrea Minichiello Williams, CEO of Christian Concern, said:

“It is in a child’s best interests to know their biological mother and father. Creating children with three parents will result in confusion and cause identity issues among both parents and children, with serious repercussions for society.

“Such practices will also send the false signal that human beings are valued on the basis of what they can offer through their physical well-being, rather than being intrinsically valuable as unique beings made in the image of God.  Is this the message we want to send to our children and future generations?"

Sources:

BBC News

The Guardian

The Week

Dr Peter Saunders’ Blog:  Three parent embryos for mitochondrial disease – unsafe, unethical and unnecessary

Resources:

HFEA Consultation

Christian Bioethics booklet

Christian Concern: Bioethics

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