Were MPs right to approve three-person babies?

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MPs have voted in favour of the creation of babies with DNA from two women and one man.

The technique would be used to prevent mitochondrial disease, which may lead to brain damage, muscle wasting, heart failure and blindness.

It uses a modified version of IVF to combine the DNA of the two parents with the healthy mitochondria of a donor woman.

This results in babies with 0.1% of their DNA from the second woman and is a permanent change that would be passed down through the generations.

MPs were given a free vote, because this was a matter of conscience rather than political allegiance, and supported the introduction of the technique by 328 votes in favour, with 128 against, taking into account support from British Nobel Prize-winning scientists and 40 leading scientists from 14 countries.

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However, the Catholic and Anglican Churches in England said the idea was not safe or ethical, not least because it involved the destruction of embryos.

This writer has doubts about it, too. Knee-jerk reaction was that this is eugenics – genetically engineering “better” human beings. But why should that be a bad thing if it doesn’t involve the deaths of people who were arbitrarily deemed inferior (as was the case with the Nazis)?

It is also interfering with nature – and do we really know what the results are going to be? There are unanswered questions.

That being said, if the technique exists, does anybody have the right to stop another person from using it – if the alternative is to have a child with disabilities and the attendant implications on quality-of-life?

Let’s have a poll.

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13 thoughts on “Were MPs right to approve three-person babies?

  1. Daniel

    I voted YES!

    There’s an awful lot of misconceptions regarding this procedure, sadly fuelled by religious groups and anti-science bods. The idea that the baby formed by this process will have features of all three parents is simply incorrect – mitochondrial DNA plays no part in the basic genetic make-up of an individual. The mitochondria themselves are actually symbiotic bacteria inside our cells, and have their own evolutionary routes, separate to human beings! (My partner is a molecular biologist, so would be able to say more, but I recall her saying there are less variations in mitochondrial genomes than human ones, so the “donor” mitochondria will be almost identical to the birth mothers, just without the defect.)

    This process is no more akin to designer babies than organ transplant is. It does not “tinker” with the genome in any way, so the baby formed has genetic features from only the birth mother and father, except the “power packs” inside the cells are from a donor. You wouldn’t say that putting batteries into a remote control car is unnatural, so why do some say this is?

  2. Jonathan Wilson

    Very much so…

    Unlike how some in the right wing blogs have likened it to “GM Kids” and warning of what will happen down the road and how it might mutate some gene and then corrupt the whole human genome… (1)

    Or that parents who have an inheritable genetic anomaly shouldn’t be so selfish to have kids who will be born with genomic problems and should instead just do without…. (2)

    And finally, how its all a bit to much like how hitler/nazi’s wanted to do things with breeding a genetically modified human. (3)

    (1) Even if such a problem (as in a worse genetic anomaly than already exists, and is now preventable) were to present its self down the line it would be self limiting to a small part of the populace; its not like there’s going to be millions of “GM Kids” being churned out… sheesh!

    (2) And maybe such selfish people who have suggested this should have had their parents use contraceptives instead of giving birth to such arrogant tossers.

    (3) Which is funny (sarc.) when you consider they are against couples giving birth to offspring with, now, preventable issues instead demanding that they should not procreate at all “just in case.”

  3. Niki

    When are the embryos destroyed? The initial procedure is done on unfertilised eggs as I understand it, embryos are destroyed in IVF. I hate to approve of anything this government do but this time I do…it’s not going to cure anything that isn’t related to mitochondrial issues?

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      I don’t think it’s a ‘government’ decision as much as a ‘Parliament’ decision – the issue has been brought forward and MPs had a free vote.

      1. Niki

        I stand corrected 🙂 (although this parliament has had very few successes in the last five years.

        I’m still confused about where the embryos are destroyed though?

    2. Daniel

      Hi Niki

      There are two ways in which this process can be carried out.

      1) Birth mother’s egg (with faulty mitochondria) and donor’s egg are fertilized. Once the zygote (nucleus containing both parents’ DNA in the fertilized egg) are formed, the zygote from the donor’s egg is removed and destroyed, and the zygote from the birth mother’s egg is taken out of her fertilized egg and transplanted into the donor’s egg.

      2) The nucleus (unfertilized) from the birth mother’s egg is placed into the empty cell of the donor’s egg (which has had the nucleus taken out and destroyed), then fertilized with the father’s sperm.

      Process 1 would be a concern to pro-life groups, as the fertilized zygote from the donor’s egg could be considered to be alive, however, process two (which is actually the easier of the two processes anyway) should not, as you could say that the donor woman, who did not want a child or already had as many as she wanted, would likely have lost the egg through menstruation anyway.

      Hope this helps!

  4. Jane Jacques

    I am very glad that this has been passed because it will help prevent the suffering and and terminal illness from mitochondrial diseases. These are diseases inherited from the mother which are variable in expression and so the mother may have the disease and appear healthy, but her baby may be born badly affected with seizures and metabolic disorders, living for a few days or surviving for a few years badly affected.

    This not about better babies but about prevention of pain and suffering both for the affected baby and the parents who can have several affected children. Is it a complete answer? No, because you have to know you have the disorder to take advantage of it, so babies will still be born with mitochondrial disease.

    I, along with my daughter are carriers and affected by another genetic disorder. I can understand their need to have healthy children. This option is already available for other genetic illnesses through pre implantation screening of embryos.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      My understanding was that the presence of the issue may be detected by examining the mother’s DNA – therefore it should be possible to prevent any babies being born with the condition.

      1. Jane Jacques

        You would only screen for mitochondrial disorders in a patient if there was a clinical indication to do so. These tests are extensive and can be invasive. Once a mitochondrial disease was identified, say in the case of a child you would then go on to test the parents and if the mother, who may appear perfectly healthy, tested positive then this new process might be discussed to prevent another affected child being born. People can also present in young adulthood to middle age with them or even older. This brings in more problems as they may have had their family by then.

        Also these diseases are very difficult to identify as they present so broadly and there is no one easily available diagnostic test eg muscle biopsies can be useful but even these can thow up non-specific results.

        Any help for these families is welcome unfortunately it only works for families who know their disorder and want more children. It will not stop these diseases.

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