Britain first to legalise 'three-parent' babies

Britain first to legalise 'three-parent' babies

LONDON - Britain will become the first nation to legalise a "three-parent" IVF technique which doctors say can prevent some inherited incurable diseases but which critics fear will effectively lead to "designer babies".

After more than three hours of debate, lawmakers in Parliament's Upper House voted on Tuesday for a change in the law to allow the treatment, following a positive vote in the Lower House earlier this month.

The treatment, called mitochondrial transfer, is known as "three-parent" in-vitro fertilisation because the babies, born from genetically modified embryos, will have DNA from a mother, a father and a female donor.

Although the technique is still at the research stage in laboratories in Britain and the United States, experts say now that legal hurdles have been overcome, Britain's first three-parent baby could be born as early as 2016.

Mitochondrial transfer involves intervening in the fertilisation process to remove faulty mitochondrial DNA, which can cause inherited conditions such as heart problems, brain disorders and muscular dystrophy.

Mitochondria act as tiny energy-generating batteries inside cells, and about one in 6,000 babies around the world is born with a serious mitochondrial disorder.

Responding to the vote, Mr Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust medical charity, commended lawmakers for a "considered and compassionate decision".

Mr Mark Downs, chief executive of the Society of Biology, hailed "a great day for UK science" and said the landmark decision "will ensure mothers who carry faulty mitochondria can have healthy children free from the devastating conditions".

But Ms Marcy Darnovsky, director of campaign group The Centre for Genetics and Society, called the move a "historic mistake" which turns children into biological experiments and will "forever alter the human germline".

"The techniques... will result in children with DNA from three different people in every cell of their bodies, which will impact a large range of traits in unknowable ways and introduce genetic changes that will be passed down to future generations," she said.

This article was first published on Feb 26, 2015.
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