Britain is set to become the first country in the world to allow doctors to use a controversial IVF technique that would lead to the creation of babies with three parents, prompting criticism that it is a “slippery slope” to producing “designer babies”.
But experts insisted that the method — aimed at eradicating inherited genetic defects — was safe and its benefits outweighed ethical objections. A public consultation found “general support” for the idea. The first “three-parent baby” could be born as early as 2015 if the proposal, approved by the government on Friday, is given the go-ahead by Parliament.
The technique, which involves using DNA of three persons, will help combat genetic problems that can cause rare and debilitating conditions affecting the heart, muscles and brain. These are caused by mutated mitochondria — tiny structures that supply power to human cells — and are passed from a mother, through the egg, to her child. It is said to affect one in every 6,500 babies.
Dame Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer for England, hailed it as a “ground-breaking” procedure saying that “mitochondrial disease can have a devastating impact on people who inherit it”.
She said that she was aware of the “sensitivities” around it, but “it’s only right that we look to introduce this life-saving treatment as soon as we can”.
“Scientists have developed ground-breaking new procedures which could stop these disease being passed on, bringing hope to many families seeking to prevent their future children inheriting them,” she said.
Professor Doug Turnbull of Newcastle University, who pioneered the technique, said he was “delighted” that it had been given the green light.
“This is excellent news for families with mitochondrial disease. This will give women how carry these diseased genes more reproductive choice and the opportunity to have children free of mitochondrial disease.”
But conservative groups said they were “outraged”.
“We’re obviously outraged, but it’s not just my outrage and the outrage of many people in the United Kingdom — it’s worldwide,” said Josephine Quintavalle of Comment on Reproductive Ethics (CORE).
Dr. David King, the director of Human Genetics Alert, called it “unnecessary and unsafe”.