Genetic mix-up

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ALISTAIR McBay quotes “the ­distinguished professor” Lord Winston’s support for mitochondrial treatments (Letters, 19 March) yet, it seems that Lord Winston has had more than a few misgivings both about the safety of the proposed techniques and how – and by whom – they would be regulated.

For instance, Lord Winston is on record as stating “Of course mitochondrial transfer is genetic modification and this modification is handed down the generations.

“It is totally wrong to compare it with a blood transfusion or a transplant and an honest statement might be more sensible and encourage public trust.”

Last June, he admitted that while he thought replacing mitochondria was “a good thing” in principle, he nevertheless thought: “The problem is that I don’t believe there has been enough work done to make sure mitochondrial replacement is truly safe. There probably needs to be a great deal more research in as many animal models as possible before it’s done.”

Perhaps the easiest explanation for such inconsistency is that his mutually incompatible statements might reflect a lack of clarity about the issues under debate?

If even Lord Winston himself has not fully understood the nature and impact of mitochondrial donation techniques, it is surely appropriate for MPs, who haven’t the benefit of his scientific expertise, to have more time than merely an hour-and-a-half on a Tuesday afternoon to debate and consider the matter?

Unfortunately, it is too late now as both the Commons and Lords, without a proper debate, voted overwhelmingly in favour of the government’s Mitochondrial Donation regulations.

Martin Conroy 

Oldhamstocks, East Lothian 

ALISTAIR McBay is mistaken if he believes objection to mitochondrial replacement (MR) is a purely Catholic issue (Letters, 19 March). Citing Lord Winston as an example of a religious view in support of MR, ignores disagreement among the wider public and scientists.

He forgets that 52 per cent of the UK public opposed a change to the law to allow MR to proceed to the clinical level. 

Referring to the Department of Health’s redefinition of “genetic modification” to exclude MR, University of Sussex biologist Ted Morrow warned: “My impression is the government is doing all it can to contain and define these kinds of terms in a way that favour MR being introduced as an uncontroversial therapy.”

Lord Winston is on record as saying mitochondrial transfer is genetic modification.

Perhaps Mr McBay is happy for governments to redefine terms to suit its own needs. I am not.

Ian Maxfield

Lodge Park

Biggar, South Lanarkshire

Ian Maxfield has a perfect right not to share my delight that gene therapy is at last giving sufferers a measure of relief from some of the terrible diseases which afflict mankind (Letters, 19 March).

But to claim that I must therefore have a “misplaced sense of bioethics” and “very dodgy theo­logy” or that I misunderstand (sic) “the nature of suffering” is quite a reach.

As a minister of the Kirk I am permitted liberty of opinion on such points of doctrine as do not enter into the substance of the Faith.

I therefore rejoice in the future prospects of genetic engineering and ignore the (usually flawed) opinions of the Vatican or committee persons in 121 George Street.

(Rev Dr) John Cameron

Howard Place

St Andrews, Fife

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