LONDON: Britain is planning to become the first country in the world to offer controversial “three-parent” fertility treatments to families who want to avoid passing on incurable diseases to their children.
The methods, currently only at the research stage in laboratories in Britain and the United States, would for the first time involve implanting genetically modified embryos into women.
Critics said the technique was ethically suspect and would eventually lead to a eugenic ‘designer baby’ market.
It involves intervening in the fertilisation process to remove faulty mitochondrial DNA, which can cause inherited conditions such as fatal heart problems, liver failure, brain disorders, blindness and muscular dystrophy.
The methods are designed to help families with mitochondrial diseases - incurable conditions passed down the maternal line that affect around one in 6,500 children worldwide.
Mitochondria act as tiny energy-generating batteries inside cells. The potential treatment is known as three-parent in vitro fertilisation (IVF) because the offspring would have genes from a mother, a father and from a female donor.
After a national public consultation showed Britons broadly favour the idea, the government’s chief physician said on Friday it should be allowed to go ahead under strict regulation.
Scientists have developed ground-breaking new procedures which could stop these diseases being passed on, bringing hope to many families seeking to prevent their children inheriting them,” Sally Davies, chief medical officer, told reporters. “It’s only right that we look to introduce this life-saving treatment as soon as we can.”
But David King, director of the Human Genetics Alert campaign group, said “the techniques are unnecessary and their use is ethically unsound” and criticised the government for failing to conduct a more comprehensive public consultation.
“They cross the ethical line that has been agreed by government around the world that we should not genetically alter human beings,” he said in an emailed statement.
Davies said the government’s health department is drafting regulations to cover the new treatments and plans to publish them later this year.
The move would make Britain the first country in the world to give patients an option of mitochondrial DNA transfer to avoid passing the diseases on to their children.