The British House of Commons voted 382 to 128 to permit the conception of babies via in vitro fertilization using DNA from three people. Now the House of Lords must approve the decision for it to become law. If it does the first baby conceived via the new technique could be born next year.
Prime Minister David Cameron refuted some opponents’ claims that scientists were now playing God. “This is going to give parents who want to have a healthy and happy baby the chance to have that baby,” he said.
The goal of the new procedure is to avoid the transmission of mitochondrial diseases. Under the decision, the embryo would receive nuclear DNA from its mother and father along with healthy mitochondrial DNA from a female donor. Researchers at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Mitochondrial Research at Newcastle University estimate that about 2,500 women of child-bearing age in Britain carry mitochondrial disease. In the U.S., over 12,400 women risk passing a mitochondrial to their children.
The Reverend Dr. Brendan McCarthy, who advises the Church of England on medical and health issues noted that changing the human germline represents an “ethical watershed.”
“It is right to be cautious, requiring a comprehensive debate and degree of consensus with regard to the ethics, safety and efficacy of these techniques before any change to the current provisions are made,” he said. “We accept in certain circumstances that embryo research is permissible as long as it is undertaken to alleviate human suffering and embryos are treated with respect. We have great sympathy for families affected by mitochondrial disease and are not opposed in principle to mitochondrial replacement.”
The country’s Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority will oversee the new policy while the research center in Newcastle is expected to serve as the site for the first procedure.
“Our findings have considerable implications for all countries that are considering allowing mitochondrial donation techniques,” said Doug Turnbull, M.D., Ph.D., director of the center at Newcastle University. “This [novel approach] would allow women who carry these mutations greater reproductive choice.”