If Parliament passes legislation, genetically-modified, three-parent babies may be conceived in Britain by next year.
The Government is set to go ahead with plans which will allow IVF doctors to produce babies without genetic defects. This method will allow parents who are at high risk of having babies with severe disabilities to obtain donor DNA to overcome genetic flaws.
The new regulations will be opened to parliament during autumn and treatments could commence next spring, which means the first babies may be born during early 2016.
Guidelines include the condition that children born by this method will never be able to discover the identity of their ‘second mother’. They will be able to gain access to ‘non-identifiable’ information when they reach the age of 16.
Critics have accused the Coalition of ignoring important safety concerns and pointed out that most of those who responded to this consultation were against the changing of the law. The row revolves around studies being done by Newcastle University regarding incurable diseases caused by mitochondrial faults.
This type of defect causes illness in one in 6500 babies and claims responsibility for 50 genetic diseases, many of which kill during infancy.
Females who are carriers of damaged mitochondria are at risk of repeated miscarriages. To help these women, techniques whereby the diseased mitochondria are replaced with healthy ones from a donor egg have been developed by scientists.
Since these changes would be passed on to the next generation, it would also aid in the elimination of the disease from future generations.
Campaign groups view the practice as unethical and have warned that children will be unable to develop a healthy sense of identity and could result in legal issues in the event that DNA donors want to contact the children in the future.
The director of research of the Scottish Council on Human Bioethics, Dr Calum MacKellar, said the procedure has not been given sufficient thought from an ethical point of view. He said that the egg donor mother or the embryo donor parents who played a part in this child’s existence may at some point want to have parent-child relationships. In this event, there may actually be three or four biological parents who all hold special bonds with the child.
The director of Human Genetics Alert, Dr David King, said the decision to stop children from finding out about their donor mother plays a role in minimising the significance of mitochondrial DNA. He added that statements which state that mitochondrial DNA has no effect on a child’s identity or characteristics are nonsense.
He added that the genes are the ones that allow a healthy life to the child and these children may one day want to have the opportunity to thank their donor.
Many have issued warnings that this could lead to a designer baby market within a period of 15 years.
If this law is passed, the UK will be the first European country to legalise this process and in excess of 100 ‘three-parent’ babies may be born in Britain each year.
Clinics hoping to offer this treatment would have to obtain approval from the fertility watchdog.
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