Peers vote for triple-DNA babies

Published: Wednesday 25th February 2015 by The News Editor

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The UK has become the first country in the world to legalise the creation of IVF babies using DNA from three people.

The first baby conceived after mitochondrial donation techniques may be born as early as next year after peers in the House of Lords voted against a move to block a planned law change by 280 votes to 48, a majority of 232.

Research has shown that mitochondrial donation could potentially help almost 2,500 women of reproductive age in the UK who are at risk of transmitting harmful DNA mutations in the mitochondria.

But opponents, including church leaders and pro-life groups, have warned that the change has been brought about too hastily and marked the start of a “slippery slope” towards designer babies and eugenics.

The Lords last night rejected an attempt to delay the legislation by Tory former Cabinet minister John Gummer, now Lord Deben, before voting overwhelmingly in favour of the change to the law after several hours of debate.

The move to amend the 2008 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, which forbids IVF treatments that affect inherited “germline” DNA in eggs and sperm, was carried by 382 votes to 128 in the Commons earlier this month.

Prime Minister David Cameron, Labour leader Ed Miliband and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg exercised their free vote to support the decision.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “Parliament’s decision will bring hope to hundreds of families affected by mitochondrial disease. We are proud to be the first country to allow these revolutionary techniques. For the first time ever, women who carry severe mitochondrial disease will have the opportunity to have healthy babies without the fear of passing on devastating genetic disorders.”

Children conceived after mitochondrial donation would have “nuclear” DNA determining individual traits such as facial features and personality from its two parents, plus a tiny amount of mitochondrial DNA (mDNA) from an anonymous woman donor.

Critics have pointed out no clinical trial has taken place to show conclusively that the treatments are safe in humans.

However, three separate expert reviews for the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) found that the procedures are ready to go forward.

Alastair Kent, director of the Genetic Alliance UK charity, which helps people with inherited conditions, said: “The vote in the House of Lords is a triumph that gives hope to families who otherwise would have to face the prospect of not being able to conceive a child free from a life-limiting disease.

“With this vote the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority is empowered to licence the use of mitochondrial donation. We look forward to working with the HFEA and our members to ensure the voice of those families that stand to benefit is considered as part of the licensing process, so that when the time is right, they can look forward to children of their own who will not be affected by serious mitochondrial disease.”

Health minister Earl Howe said it would be “cruel and perverse” to deny for any longer than was necessary the chance of some women who carry serious inherited diseases to have healthy children.

He said the move to permit the controversial procedures, aimed at preventing serious inherited, mitochondrial diseases, offered “real hope” to families and allow women to have their own genetic children free of “terrible disease” caused by disorders in their mitochondrial DNA.

“My own position, shared by ministerial colleagues, is very simple,” he told a packed chamber.

“Families can see the technology is there to help them and are keen to take it up.

“It would be cruel and perverse in my judgment to deny them that opportunity for any longer than absolutely necessary.”

He was supported by the IVF pioneer and labour peer Lord Winston, who told the Lords: “I don’t believe that this technology threatens the fabric of our society the slightest bit.

“On the contrary, in a way it protects it. What we are doing is recognising our limits by accepting regulation.”

He added: “What we are doing if we decide not to vote for Lord Deben’s amendment is expressing our concern as a House and our compassion for people who are faced with a really invidious and horrendous choice.

“Under those circumstances, given that this is going to be a limited procedure really affecting very few people, it would be utterly wrong for this House to turn down the democratically-elected chamber and not to support what the Government have proposed.”

The change in law had also been backed by chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies. Before the Lords vote she said it would ” give these women their own children and these families hope, and I believe this is right”.

Lord Deben’s unsuccessful motion rejected the law change until a joint committee of MPs and peers had reported on safety procedures.

He had argued it had not yet been proved the techniques were safe and there was uncertainty about their legality.

He told peers: “We are trying to protect three sets of people – families, mothers and fathers; children; and the wider society.

“We would be the first country in the world to allow this. We have to be very careful that we do so with full and whole-hearted support and also that we have fulfilled the safety needs.”

The Bishop of Carlisle, the Rt Rev James Newcome, said the Church of England was not opposed in principle to mitochondrial transfer, but added: “But at the same time we have always counselled a degree of caution given the potential implications of this development.”

He said research tests into safety should be completed and reported before the change was approved and expressed disappointment over the “element of rush”.

The Bishop said: “Both personally and as a representative of the Church of England I am basically very much in favour of this development.

“But I cannot ignore the compelling arguments against pushing this through in haste.”

Published: Wednesday 25th February 2015 by The News Editor

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