A DECISION to legalise the creation of “designer babies” with three genetic parents would break international law, a leading Scottish medical group has warned.
The Scottish Council on Human Bioethics (SCHB) condemned safeguards presented to ministers by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) for controversial “mitochondrial replacement” techniques that could affect future generations. If approved, babies could be created using DNA from three different people in order to prevent inherited disorders passed down the maternal line, a practice that is currently outlawed.
The purpose of the procedure is to stop the transmission of defective DNA from mothers to their babies.
Children born after the procedures would possess DNA inherited from their parents plus DNA from a woman donor. The Department of Health will consider the advice offered by the HFEA and make a decision, which will cover Scotland, in due course.
The SCHB said it was “very concerned” about the new procedures, and pointed out any medical undertaking to modify the human genome that would affect descendants was against the European Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine.
Dr Calum MacKellar, director of research of the SCHB, said: “The UK would be breaking international law by allowing the genetic modification of descendants. It would be a very serious precedent and open the door to further genetic alterations of human beings, resulting in grave risks for the future.”
However, experts argue that the innovation could lead to the eradication of a host of serious inherited diseases.
Mitochondria are rod-shaped “power plants” in the bodies of cells that supply energy. They contain their own DNA, which is only passed down the maternal line.
Defects in mitochondrial DNA (mDNA) give rise to a range of potentially life-threatening diseases, including a form of muscular dystrophy, heart problems, and bowel disorders.
The new techniques result in the damaged mDNA being replaced by a healthy version supplied by the female donor.
In its recommendations, the HFEA said clinics wishing to offer mitochondrial replacement should be specifically licensed. It says that the authority should approve each use of the procedure, at least initially.
The SCHB voiced its concerns that the procedure would create confusion for future children’s understanding on who their real biological parents are.
Dr MacKellar added: “The procedure has not been sufficiently thought through from an ethical perspective.”
Professor Lisa Jardine, chair of the HFEA, said: “We’ve found that there is broad support for permitting mitochondria replacement, to give families at risk of mitochondrial disease the chance of having a healthy child.”
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