The British government is considering using a new technique to eradicate serious illness stemming from one parent. However, there’s a catch— the child will have two mothers and one father.
Then the genetically-engineered egg is fertilized with sperm creating an embryo that has genetic material from three persons, the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from the donor, and nuclear DNA contributed by the parents. If accepted, Britain would be the first country in the world to allow the creation of babies that have three parents.
Now the British government is arguing that since the third mother will only contribute to 0.1% of the child’s DNA, their identity should remain secret. Currently, the law allows children born via IVF to find out their donor’s identity when they turn 18; however, this would not be the case with three-parent IVF.
Although some believe this will give families suffering from illness the ability to have healthy children, there are serious problems with this technique. First, the science behind this is very new and animal testing of MD has been limited. In other words, no one really knows how safe it will be. Secondly, is it wrong to create multiple babies to only discard— I mean kill a few, which always happens with pronuclear transfer (the process of swapping DNA between two fertilized human eggs).
And finally, many pro-lifers have serious concerns with the morality of making genetically engineered children. This is not just because it involves the destruction of human life, but because in order to perfect these children there will be experimentation. Ultimately, human life will be used in science experiments and mistakes will be made that we cannot take back.
Supporters say the legislation would allow those living in the shadow of incurable disease the chance to have a healthy child.
But critics argue that genetically engineering eggs crosses a critical ethical line, and are concerned about the impact of children not knowing who their third parent is.
‘This is already granted to children who are adopted because we understand how important it is for children to know about their genetic heritage for their sense of identity and self-understanding. It should not be denied to these children.’
However Robert Meadowcroft, of the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign, said the technique ‘involves a calculated step into new scientific territory, but it is a very focused step, with the sole aim of preventing a potentially fatal condition from being passed down where possible.’
He added that it would open up the ‘possibility of motherhood’ to women afraid of passing on a painful and debilitating condition.The technique, being perfected at Newcastle University, involves trying to prevent disease caused by faults in mitochondria, which cause serious illness in one in 6,500 babies.
Scientists have found a way of swapping the mother-to-be’s diseased mitochondria with healthy ones donated by another woman.
The technique involves removing the nucleus DNA from a fertilised egg, and inserting it into a donor egg where the nucleus DNA has been removed.
The resulting embryo would end up with the nucleus DNA from its parents – making up the vast majority – but the mitochondrial DNA from the donor, amounting to around 0.1 per cent.
The proposed change in the law was announced by Public Health Minister Jane Ellison. It will have to be debated and voted on in both Houses but could be passed by the end of January. However, it would not become law until October. The Newcastle team say they are delighted that Parliament is to consider the legislation and say they will soon be ready to treat couples.