Lords Vote In Favour Of 'Three-Parent Babies'

25 February 2015, 06:00 | Updated: 25 February 2015, 07:12

The UK has become the first country in the world to legalise the creation of IVF babies using DNA from three people.

The first baby conceived after mitochondrial donation techniques may be born as early as next year after peers in the House of Lords voted against a move to block a planned law change by 280 votes to 48, a majority of 232.

Research has shown that mitochondrial donation could potentially help almost 2,500 women of reproductive age in the UK who are at risk of transmitting harmful DNA mutations in the mitochondria.

The technique was developed by scientists at Newcastle University.

But opponents, including church leaders and pro-life groups, have warned that the change has been brought about too hastily and marked the start of a "slippery slope'' towards designer babies and eugenics.

The Lords last night rejected an attempt to delay the legislation by Tory former Cabinet minister John Gummer, now Lord Deben, before voting overwhelmingly in favour of the change to the law after several hours of debate.

The move to amend the 2008 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, which forbids IVF treatments that affect inherited "germline'' DNA in eggs and sperm, was carried by 382 votes to 128 in the Commons earlier this month.

Prime Minister David Cameron, Labour leader Ed Miliband and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg exercised their free vote to support the decision.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said:
"Parliament's decision will bring hope to hundreds of families affected by mitochondrial disease. We are proud to be the first country to allow these revolutionary techniques. For the first time ever, women who carry severe mitochondrial disease will have the opportunity to have healthy babies without the fear of passing on devastating genetic disorders.''


UPDATED 3rd February 4pm

MPs have backed mitochondrial donation techniques aimed at preventing serious inherited diseases by 382 to 128, majority 254, in an historic Commons vote to legalise the creation of IVF babies with DNA from three people.

Britain will become the first country in the world to allow the procedure in law and Health Minister Jane Ellison told MPs the techniques offered the ``only hope'' for some women who carry the disease to have ``healthy, genetically-related children'' who will not suffer from the ``devastating and often fatal consequences'' of mitochondrial disease.

But the measure was bitterly opposed by some MPs who warned it was a ``red line'' which Parliament should not cross.
Updated 3rd February 2015 06.00am

A crucial vote's being held by MPs later to decide whether to allow a new IVF technique using DNA from three parents.

If it's passed, Britain would become the first country in the world to allow it.

MPs will have a free vote at the end of the 90-minute debate on a controversial amendment to the 2008 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act.

If they back the change, mitochondrial donation techniques aimed at preventing serious inherited diseases will be legalised.

Scientists at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Mitochondrial Research at Newcastle University are among those pioneering mitochondrial donation and will be the first to offer the treatment if it gets the go-ahead.

The debate has divided opinion between experts and charities backing the treatments and opponents who say the move marks the start of a slippery slope towards "designer'' babies.

Research has shown that mitochondrial donation could potentially help almost 2,500 women of reproductive age in the UK.

All are at risk of transmitting harmful DNA mutations in the mitochondria, tiny rod-liked power plants in cells, onto their children and future generations.

How does it work?

Mitochondrial donation would allow children - described by critics as "three parent babies'' - to be conceived with genetic material from a trio of individuals.

As well as receiving normal "nuclear'' DNA from its mother and father, a child would also have a minuscule amount of healthy mitochondrial DNA (mDNA) from a woman donor.

Mitochondrial diseases can be devastating, affecting major organs and causing symptoms ranging from poor vision to diabetes and muscle wasting.

International charities and campaigners have written an open letter to MPs urging them to vote for the change in the law, saying it "offers families the first glimmer of hope that they might be able to have a baby that will live without pain and suffering''.

Until now any tampering with "germline'' DNA - genetic material in sperm and eggs that is inherited - has been against the law.

A study from the group recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that 2,473 women in the UK are at risk of passing on a potentially lethal mitochondrial disease to their children.

Dr Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, the UK's biggest research charity, said:
"Over the past seven years, Britain has been engaged in an exemplary process for evaluating scientific, ethical and public opinion about mitochondrial donation, which has revealed broad support on all three fronts.

The Government is right to ask Parliament to support regulations that will allow the law to catch up with public and scientific opinion, and we urge MPs and peers to vote for them.''

Opponents, including pro-life and church groups, argue that the procedures are not known to be safe and cross an important ethical boundary.

Dr David King, director of the watchdog group Human Genetics Alert, said:
"This is not about protecting embryos but about protecting children from the severe health risks of these unnecessary techniques and protecting everyone from the eugenic designer baby future that will follow from this.

The public has been grossly misled about both the science and the ethics of these techniques by their advocates.

Mitochondrial are not 'just batteries'. The choice is not about allowing the techniques or allowing babies to suffer.

These diseases can be prevented through conventional egg donation - a reliable method that doesn't risk the child's health.

All that these dangerous experimental techniques add is that that they allow the mother to be a genetic parent, which is not a medical benefit for anyone."