MPs have today voted in favour of changes to the law that will see Britain become the first country in the world to permit the creation of IVF babies with DNA from three different people.
After a debate in the House of Commons, MPs voted by in favour of the amendment to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act by votes 382 to 128.
If approved by the House of Lords, where the change in legislation will next be debated, it will mean that IVF clinics will be able to replace an egg’s defective mitochondrial DNA with healthy DNA from a female donor, which would result in babies having DNA from three people.
Speaking in favour of changing the law, Public Health Minister Jane Ellison told the Commons: “This is a bold step for parliament to take, but it is a considered and informed step. This is world leading science within a highly respected regulatory regime. “And for the many families affected, this is light at the end of a very dark tunnel.”
However, Fiona Bruce MP, who voted against the amendment, said that “highly legitimate concerns” had been ignored.
“Today’s vote shows that, despite the Government pushing this through at breakneck speed and the multi-million pound pro-research lobby pouring resources into passing this, a significant number of MPs raised highly legitimate concerns about proceeding, on many counts, including ethics, safety, science and legality and Parliamentary procedure,” she said.
“These MPs reflect the views of the nation, only 10% of whom, according to the latest polling by Comres, thought MPs should have voted on the regulations today. I hope this will be recognised in the House of Lords when there will be an opportunity to vote on giving more Parliamentary time to these extremely significant regulations.”
During the debate, Mrs Bruce said: ““One thing is for sure, once this alteration has taken place, as someone has said, once the genie is out of the bottle, once these procedures that we’re asked to authorise today go ahead, there will be no going back for society.”
Statement from Bishop John Sherrington on behalf of the Bishops Conference of England and Wales (following the vote in Parliament)
“Despite the genuine and considerable concerns of many people, the decision of Parliament is clear on this issue. Whilst the Church recognises the suffering that mitochondrial diseases bring and hopes that alternative methods of treatment can be found, it remains opposed on principle to these procedures where the destruction of human embryos is part of the process. This is about a human life with potential, arising from a father and a mother, being used as disposable material. The human embryo is a new human life with potential; it should be respected and protected from the moment of conception and not used as disposable material.”
A briefing note by the Anscombe Bioethics Centre on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Mitochondrial Donation) Regulations 2015:
What the regulations permit
The regulations are entitled ‘mitochondrial donation’ but the processes they permit (Regulations 4 and 7) are the removal and insertion of ‘nuclear DNA’ out of and into an egg or an embryo. Note also that these techniques would not treat mitochondrial disease in any existing person but aim to produce children who are genetically related to the birth mother but free of her inherited condition.
Safety and efficacy
The possibility of extending the HFE Act by regulations was included in the Act with the assurance that such regulations would only be enacted ‘once it was clear that the scientific procedures involved were effective and safe’.
Though prominent scientists in the United Kingdom are keen to press ahead, the international scientific community as a whole is not convinced that safety and efficacy has been shown. It is particularly significant that the FDA does not yet consider ‘mitochondrial donation’ to be safe.
In at least some cases the FDA has been right to be more cautious than the UK. When Thalidomide was in widespread clinical use in the UK it was not approved by the FDA for use in the USA.
Those who were MPs in 2008 should also recall the unfulfilled claims made by scientists in Newcastle for the efficacy of ‘animal-human hybrid’ embryos to find treatments for various conditions. Note that the present experimental techniques will affect not only embryos but also women and children.
Even though ‘mitochondrial donation’ (that is, replacement of nuclear DNA) has not been shown to be safe or effective in human beings, the government proposes to license these techniques directly for treatment without first gaining safety data from a clinical trial. It has been stated specifically that these techniques will not be licensed “with the objective of ascertaining… safety and/or efficacy”.
A clinical trial would create legal problems as the European Directive on clinical trials (2001/20/EC) states in Article 9(6) that “No gene therapy trials may be carried out which result in modifications to the subject’s germ line”. A clinical trial would also create ethical problems and we do not recommend it. However, MPs should consider whether introducing a radical new genetic technique affecting future generations without even a clinical trial is something that should be contemplated.
Each MP must consider whether he or she has confidence that replacement of nuclear DNA has been shown to be effective and safe, and each must take responsibility for this decision.
This responsibility should not be passed on to the HFEA, for the Act very deliberately did not give this power to the HFEA, but required regulations and hence parliamentary scrutiny.
Other important ethical issues
The regulations envisage that by one technique (Pro-Nuclear Transfer) two embryos would be destroyed in the process of constructing a modified embryo. This is a further step in commodification of the human embryo and a failure to respect new individual human lives.
The regulations amend the Act so that the egg donor and the child conceived using her egg (in the case of the pre-fertilisation technique, Maternal Spindle Transfer) have fewer rights to know about one another. This stripping away of rights was not discussed at the time of the passage of the Act’
Source (News): Catholic Herald
Source (Statement and Background): The Catholic Church in England and Wales