MPs have voted in favour of making Britain the first country in the world to permit IVF babies to be created using biological material from three different people to help prevent serious genetic diseases.
In a historic debate, the House of Commons voted by 382 to 128 – a majority of 254 – to allow mitochondrial donation through a controversial amendment to the 2008 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act. They approved the regulation in spite of some critics warning it was a step towards creating “three-parent” designer babies.
The regulations will now have to be approved in the House of Lords where they are likely to be passed.
MPs were allowed a free vote on the issue of conscience but both the Conservative and Labour frontbenches made it clear they believed it was an important scientific step forwards that did not amount to genetic modification.
Jane Ellison, the Conservative public health minister, told MPs the techniques provided in the regulations offered the only hope for some women who carry mitochondrial disease to have "healthy, genetically related children" who will not suffer from the "devastating and often fatal consequences" of mitochondrial disease.
She said mitochondrial DNA is 0.054 per cent of a person’s overall DNA and none of the nuclear DNA which determines personal characteristics and traits.
Critics of the motion had been given hope of defeating it after the Church of England and the Catholic Church in England and Wales said it was not yet clear that the technique was safe or ethical.
Opposition was led by Conservative MP Fiona Bruce, who said parliament needed more time to debate the issues.
“I believe the regulations before us today fail on both counts – ethics and safety – and they are inextricably interlinked,” she said. “One of these procedures we are asked to approve today, pronuclear transfer, involves the deliberate creation and destruction of at least two human embryos, and probably in practice many more, in order to create a third embryo which it is hoped will be free from human mitochondrial disease. Are we happy to sacrifice two early human lives to make a third?”
Several other MPs objected to the shortness of the 90-minute period for debate, saying a subject of such ethical controversy should be given more time for consideration. However, the minister said mitochondrial donation had been subject to extensive scrutiny for years and it was now time for MPs to vote.
Andrew Miller, the Labour chairman of the science and technology committee, urged his colleagues to back the "overwhelming interest" of those families who have suffered from mitochondrial disease.
“I put it to this House that the benefits to those – about 2,500 families – affected by mitochondrial disease up and down this nation, they deserve the support of this House because of the potential benefits,” he said. “Yes, of course, we’ve got to assess the risks as we do with all risks but they’ve got to be done in a rational and balanced way.”
Mitochondrial diseases are caused by genetic faults in the DNA of tiny structures that provide power for the body’s cells. The DNA is held separately to the 20,000 genes that influence a person’s identity, such as their looks and personality. Because mothers alone pass mitochondria on to children, the diseases are only passed down the maternal line.
Around 40 scientists from 14 countries have urged the British legislature to approve laws allowing mitochondrial DNA transfer. – Guardian News and Media