25 Feb 2015

UK approves three-person babies

3:07 pm on 25 February 2015

Britain has now become the first country to approve laws to allow the creation of babies from three people.

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Photo: PHOTO NZ

A large majority of MPs in the House of Commons approved "three-person babies" earlier this month.

The House of Lords yesterday rejected an attempt to block the plan by a majority of 232.

First baby could be born as early as 2016

The modified version of IVF has passed its final legislative obstacle after being approved by the British House of Lords.

The fertility regulator will now decide how to license the procedure to prevent babies inheriting deadly genetic diseases.

The first baby could be born as early as 2016.

The technique, developed in Newcastle, uses a modified version of IVF to combine the healthy mitochondria of a donor woman with DNA of the two parents.

It results in babies with 0.1 percent of their DNA from the second woman and is a permanent change that would echo down through the generations.

Fears of 'real doubts about safety'

In the debate, health minister Lord Howe said there was an opportunity to offer "real hope" to families.

He stated the UK was leading the world and that three safety reviews by experts suggested it would be safe.

Lord Howe told the House: "Families can see that the technology is there to help them and are keen to take it up, they have noted the conclusions of the expert panel.

"It would be cruel and perverse in my opinion, to deny them that opportunity for any longer than absolutely necessary."

Lord Deben, the former government minister John Gummer, countered that there were "real doubts about safety".

He also voiced concerns about whether the creation of such babies would be legal.

Fertility doctor, Lord Winston, told the House there were comparison with the early days of IVF which was "also a set in the dark".

He added: "I don't believe my Lords, in spite of what we've heard this evening, that this technology threatens the fabric of society in the slightest bit."

Sally Cheshire, the chairwoman of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, said: "Britain is the first country in the world to permit this treatment, and it is a testament to the scientific expertise and well-respected regulatory regime that exists across the UK that Parliament has felt able to approve it.

Legal objections 'hopeless'

James Lawford Davies, a lawyer from Lawford Davies Denoon which specialises in the life sciences, told the BBC: "All of the legal arguments made in opposition to the regulations are hopeless.

"The regulations do not breach the Clinical Trials Directive which applies only to medicinal products.

"The regulations do not breach the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms which prohibit 'eugenic practices' as this is intended to prevent practices such as forced sterilisation and reproductive cloning, not treatments intended to prevent the transmission of disease."

The Catholic and Anglican Churches in England said the idea was not safe or ethical, not least because it involved the destruction of embryos.

Other groups, including Human Genetics Alert, say the move would open the door to further genetic modification of children in the future - so-called designer babies, genetically modified for beauty, intelligence or to be free of disease.

Estimates suggest 150 couples would be suitable to have babies through the technique each year.

If the measure goes ahead, the first "three-person" baby could be born next year.

- BBC