In a historic move, MPs have voted in favour of the creation of babies with DNA from two women and one man, a technique that stops genetic diseases being passed from mother to child.
All that’s now needed is a further vote in the House of Lords, and the first three-person child could be born as early as next year, with estimates suggesting that 150 three-person babies could be born each and every year.
Prime Minister David Cameron says “We’re not playing god here, we’re just making sure that two parents who want a healthy baby can have one”. Critics say they will continue to fight against the technique, which they argue raises too many ethical and safety concerns.
1) Two eggs are fertilised with sperm, creating an embryo from the intended parents and another from the donors.
2) The pronuclei, which contain genetic information, are removed from both embryos but only the parents’ are kept.
3) A healthy embryo is created by adding the parents’ pronuclei to the donor embryo, which is finally implanted into the womb.
1) Eggs from a mother with damaged mitochondria and a donor with healthy mitochondria are collected.
2) The majority of the genetic material is removed from both eggs
3) The mother’s genetic material is inserted into the donor egg, which can be fertilised by sperm.
Public Health Minister Jane Ellison told the House of Commons: “This is a bold step for parliament to take, but it is a considered and informed step. This is world leading science within a highly respected regulatory regime. And for the many families affected, this is light at the end of a very dark tunnel.”
Fiona Bruce, the MP for Congleton, countered: “[This] will be passed down generations, the implications of this simply cannot be predicted.
“But one thing is for sure, once this alteration has taken place, as someone has said, once the gene is out of the bottle, once these procedures that we’re asked to authorise today go ahead, there will be no going back for society.”
The debate in Commons also repeatedly struggled with whether the move would constitute “genetic modification”.
A review by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, as well as a public consultation by the fertility regulator, argued the creation of three-person babies was ethical.
Three scientific reviews by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) suggest the technique is “not unsafe”.
Yet some scientists argue those reviews were flawed.
Dr Ted Morrow, from the University of Sussex, believes there are still uncertainties.
“I have some concerns about the safety, I’m really not happy that the reviews have been as exemplary as other people think they are.”
Prof Lisa Jardine, former chair of the HFEA, said the safety issue was a “red herring”.
“All of those issues have been investigated,” she said. “The scientific committees have said there is no evidence this procedure is unsafe but like all good scientists, they say it will require careful progress.”
Bishop of Swindon Dr Lee Rayfield said this procedure was a “massive step” and some of his colleagues were concerned about how it was going to be regulated once approved.
“If the safeguards are there, the Church of England will be behind this,” he added.
Rachel Kean, whose aunt died from mitochondrial disease, told BBC Breakfast that a yes vote would “prevent some of the cruellest and most devastating diseases, not just for the next generation but generations after”.
She said there had been an “unprecedented” amount of scrutiny into the regulation and a lot of misinformation about “designer babies”.
The HFEA is expected to give Newcastle a licence to carry out the procedure.
The first attempt could take place this year, which could lead to the first birth in 2016.
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