UK Council: Genetically Modified Babies Are Ethical

Children Could Have DNA from 3 People

Written by Brianna Panzica
Posted July 5, 2012

The inability to conceive can be a devastating experience for couples hoping to become parents.

Less couples have experienced that as in-vitro fertilization (IVF) has allowed increased chances of pregnancy.

But this technology is being studied through a new lens now, as scientists believe it could be used to eliminate mitochondrial diseases.

A child inherits its mitochondrial DNA from its mother, and problems in the mother's DNA could lead to any number of complications with the child—heart, kidney, liver problems, and dementia are just some of these.

But with a type of IVF involving three people instead of two, parents might have the option of ensuring their child will have healthy mitochondrial DNA.

The treatment would involve inserting the nuclear DNA from a fertilized egg into an egg from a donor containing healthy mitochondrial DNA.

The UK's Nuffield Council on Bioethics ruled that this type of treatment was ethical and did not technically overstep any moral boundaries.

Professor Frances Flinter, a geneticist, told the Huffington Post:

“As far as we know, mitochondrial genes alone create no unique identifiable genetic link between child and donor.”

And that would be the only genetic material the child would receive from the third person, or donor. All the rest would be from its natural parents.

Dr. Geoff Watts of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics said:

“If further research shows these techniques to be sufficiently safe and effective, we think it would be ethical for families to use them if they wished to, provided they receive an appropriate level of information and support. They could offer significant health benefits to individuals and families, who could potentially live their lives free from what can be very severe and debilitating disorders.”

The opposition fears that this could be just the beginning of a road to more extensive genetic modification in humans—and eventually cloning.

Dr. David King of Human Genetics Alert, for example, said this action and the result is similar to “Frankenstein's creation”—an unnatural combination of different humans to create one new person.

Once scientists start with this sort of genetic manipulation, some fear that it will snowball.

But Dr. Watts assures the public that this sort of action should be restricted to the specific case at hand—eliminating mitochondrial diseases and choosing a better quality of life for children.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority plans to begin a public debate in September of this year, reporting the results of this consultation in 2013.

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