Designing your baby is an arguable debate, and now a new controversial technique that extends beyond the scope of choosing your baby’s eye and hair color is being birthed in Britain. If lawmakers get their way, parents in the UK might soon be able to utilize 3-person IVF — wherein a baby is created by two women and one man to prevent offspring from suffering from mitochondrial diseases. A scientist would take only the “healthy mitochondria” from the mom-to-be’s egg or embryo and transfer it to a healthy donor egg that is then fertilized with the father’s sperm and placed into the mom. Mitochondrial DNA is only passed on by the mother, so three-person IVF would allow the mother and father to keep their nuclear DNA but to swap out the mother’s “bad” mitochondrial DNA for a donor’s mitochondrial DNA.
Public dissent from watchdog groups and religious institutions argue that the new procedure will open the floodgates for “designer babies” and compromise the integrity of human embryonic development. Even if lawmakers approve the new treatment, further research will be needed to prove the method actually works.
“Scientists have developed groundbreaking new procedures which could stop these diseases being passed on,” Britain’s chief medical officer, Dr. Sally Davies, said in a statement reported in the The Huffington Post. “It’s only right that we look to introduce this life-saving treatment as soon as we can.”
The UK government plans to finalize a draft proposal later this year to present before parliament in 2014. The procedure has been proven to work in animals but has never been tested on humans. If approved, experts say that only a dozen or so women would be treated in Britain each year.
One in 200 children are born every year in Britain with a mitochondrial disorder. In the US—where similar research is taking place—as many as 4,000 children are born with the same disorder each year.