The UK's fertility watchdog has approved the procedureby Rebecca Coulson / December 28, 2016 / Leave a comment
“[T]he fact is, society seems already to have accepted, or allowed itself to be persuaded by men in white coats, that making children in labs, flushing unwanted ones down the sink, and experimenting on embryos as if they were just more cell cultures, is all ethically A-OK. It’s not A-OK for myself and many other people, but it would be hypocritical or arbitrary for those who have accepted everything thus far to start twitching the curtains over so-called ‘three parent’ babies”—David Oderberg, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Reading
Two weeks ago, UK independent regulator the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), approved “the use of mitochondrial donation in certain, specific cases,” allowing fertility clinics to apply for licenses to provide two forms of Mitochondrial Replacement Therapy (MRT). This will be welcome news to women who are aware that, owing to their genetic makeup, any child they conceive could likely suffer from life-threatening mitochondrial diseases. Regulations permitting these treatments—which use in vitro fertilisation, but, as well as involving an egg and sperm from the child’s two biological parents, incorporate part of a second woman’s egg to prevent the child inheriting its mother’s mitochondrial DNA—were passed by parliament last year. The HFEA ruling means that the first children conceived this way could be born in 2017.
The press has dubbed these future children “three-parent babies”—whether this term is apt is just one of the complex questions arising from the news. To help me address those questions, I asked Oderberg, an ethics specialist, for his thoughts. While Oderberg doesn’t think that “mitochondrial transfer represents any kind of watershed moment or breaking of an ultimate taboo, in the way some ethicists—and the media—seem to think,” this is predicated on the view that it’s an unsurprising development, considering the choices our society has already made.
The birth of Louise Brown, in 1978, marked the beginning of the IVF age. Around 2 per cent of babies now born in the UK are conceived through the procedure, mostly to parents who otherwise have little chance of reproducing. In April, a boy conceived as a result of MRT was born in Mexico; he has, owing to the second woman’s involvement, been widely referred to as “the first three-parent baby.” However, the now-outlawed use, in America, of different techniques led to 17 children being born in the 90s…