Three-Parent IVF: Is Britain's Plan For Genetically-Modified Embryos Ethical?
The United Kingdom is forging ahead with a three-parent IVF plan that would allow the DNA of three people to be used for in vitro fertilization.
The U.K., which announced the plan today, would be the first country to allow such a three-parent IVF procedure, the purpose of which is is to prevent mitochondrial disorders. The disorders can lead to a variety of health issues, among them heart and liver disease and muscular dystrophy. Around one out of 6,500 people are born with a mitochondrial disorder.
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"Mitochondrial disease, including heart disease, liver disease, loss of muscle coordination and other serious conditions like muscular dystrophy, can have a devastating impact on the people who inherit it," Dame Sally Davies, the U.K.'s chief medical officer, told CNN. She added, "It's only right that we look to introduce this life-saving treatment as soon as we can."
The three-parent IVF procedure, called mitochondrial transfer, removes faulty mitochondria and replaces it with the DNA of a healthy female donor. The procedure is currently in testing in Britain, where it has been tested in animals but not humans. If the plan is implemented, it would be the first time that genetically modified embryos would be implanted in women.
The ethics of three-parent IVF are a source of some controversy, with opponents claiming it will lead to parents creating "designer babies."
"These techniques are unnecessary and unsafe and were in fact rejected by the majority of consultation responses," said Dr. David King, director of the watchdog group Human Genetic Alert. "It is a disaster that the decision to cross the line that will eventually lead to a eugenic designer baby market should be taken on the basis of an utterly biased and inadequate consultation."
The Nuffield Council on Bioethics, a U.K. group which studied the ethical issues around three-parent IVF technique over a six month period, said that the health and social benefits of the procedure meant that "on balance...if these novel techniques are adequately proven to be acceptably safe and effective as treatments, it would be ethical for families to use them."
The U.K. government's decision to continue researching the three-parent IVF procedure follows a consultation with the public, in which the government asked about the "social and ethical" questions surrounding the procedure.
The decision to push the techniques forward follows open consultation with the public in which U.K. citizens were asked how they felt about the treatment and the "social and ethical" questions it raises. The government said that the public showed "overall support for the treatment."
Below, a video commissioned by the U.K. government explains the procedure of three-parent IVF.
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