Laws to allow babies to be born using DNA from three people have been passed in Britain. If the bill (which passed 382-128) gets the backing of Parliament’s upper chamber later this month, this method of DNA donation would become legal in the UK in October of 2015 and the first babies could be born next year.
Reportedly, the IVF procedure can prevent serious diseases from being passed down to children. Britain will become the first country in the world to approve this new process. However, critics say that the technology is a slippery slope towards “designer” babies and some experts say it would be an “historic mistake.”
David Cameron, who voted in favor of the change, said it was not “playing God” but the chance to help parents have a “healthy and happy baby.”
In the House of Commons debate today, Tory backbencher David Burrowes criticized the idea, which he said involved procedures which are cell nuclear transfer.
He told health minister Jane Ellison, “That’s what regulations four and seven do and make clear. By that they very implicitly do explicitly alter the nuclear DNA in the egg and therefore one has to agree an honest clear definition is what we’re dealing with is genetic modification.”
The group Human Genetics Alert and Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, maintain that despite the scientific reviews, the decision to legalize mitochondrial donation is being taken too hastily.
One of the chief arguments is that the procedures have so far only been tested in the laboratory and on animals. No clinical trial has taken place to show conclusively that the treatments are safe in humans. The first women to be treated will therefore be human guinea pigs.
Opponents point out that potentially serious problems might only arise once the procedures are carried out for real. For instance, it might turn out that mDNA affects personal traits as well as metabolism in unforeseen ways.
Epigenetic effects are seen as another hazard. These are environmental influences that can affect the way genes work, either switching them on or off to produce permanent changes.
Critics say mitochondrial donation is a step too far, and crosses an ethical boundary. It could mark the start of a slippery slope that leads to the creation of “designer babies” whose genes are tweaked to provide desirable characteristics. Rather than risk a future Brave New World of human genetic engineering and eugenics, a line should be drawn in the sand now, it is claimed.