Britain is considered as one of the countries standing on the forefront of fertility and genetics research, which is why its stand on the scientific advances and ethical considerations in the field serves as a yardstick for the rest of the world. True to form, the Nuffield Council of Bioethics recently said that they consider three-parent fertility treatments to be ethical. Furthermore, as long as they are proven to be safe and effective, they should be offered to qualified families along with information and support from experts. For families who are not finding it easy to achieve conception, this news brings them one step closer to their goal.
Three-parent fertility treatments are still in the process of research and development. This process results in an offspring which has genes coming from three—rather than two—people: a father, a mother and a female donor. The value of this procedure lies in its potential to prevent some incurable diseases that are inherited from mother to child.
The treatment aims to replace the mother’s faulty mitochondrial DNA with that from a healthy female donor. The mitochondria is also known as the ‘powerhouse’ of the cell, and generates energy to sustain cellular activity. A baby only inherits mitochondria from its mother.
It is estimated that one in every 6500 children is born with health conditions as a result of inherited maternal mitochondria. This includes a host on inherited issues such as brain disorders, liver failure, fatal heart problems, blindness, and muscular weakness.
While mitochondria swapping is different from actually altering intracellular DNA, the Nuffield inquiry deems it a form of germline therapy nonetheless. They qualify that their approval only covers this particular procedure and not any other forms of germline therapy which are presently banned in the country.
Not surprisingly, pro-life campaigners such as the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) are against the treatment, citing it as destructive, dangerous and unethical.