Britain becomes first nation to legalize three-parent babies

Tue Feb 24, 2015 4:43pm EST
 
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By Kate Kelland

LONDON (Reuters) - - Britain will become the first nation to legalize a "three-parent" IVF technique which doctors say can prevent some inherited incurable diseases but which critics fear will effectively lead to "designer babies".

After more than three hours of debate, lawmakers in parliament's upper house voted on Tuesday for a change in the law to allow the treatments, echoing a positive vote in the lower house earlier this month.

The treatment, called mitochondrial transfer, is known as "three-parent" in vitro fertilization (IVF) because the babies, born from genetically modified embryos, would have DNA from a mother, a father and from a female donor.

Although the techniques are still at the research stage in laboratories in Britain and the United States, experts say that now legal hurdles have been overcome, Britain's first 3-parent baby could be born as early as 2016.

Mitochondrial transfer involves intervening in the fertilization process to remove faulty mitochondrial DNA, which can cause inherited conditions such as heart problems, liver failure, brain disorders, blindness and muscular dystrophy.

Mitochondria act as tiny energy-generating batteries inside cells, and around 1 in 6,000 babies around the world are born with serious mitochondrial disorders.

Responding to the vote, Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust medical charity commended lawmakers for a "considered and compassionate decision".

"Families who know what it is like to care for a child with a devastating disease are the people best placed to decide whether mitochondrial donation is the right option," he said.   Continued...