House of Commons votes to allow IVF ‘three-parent’ babies

MPs back efforts to cut number of serious inherited diseases

The United Kingdom will become the first country in the world to legalise the creation of so-called "three-parent IVF babies", following a House of Commons vote by MPs who backed efforts to cut the number of serious inherited diseases.

Mitochondria are present in almost every cell in the body. Because they produce the energy the body needs to function they are called the cell’s “battery pack”. If faulty, however, they cause a variety of crippling brain and muscle-wasting diseases.

Under the technology developed in Newcastle, a tiny piece of mitochondrial DNA – about 0.1 per cent of the total DNA that make up every human – is taken from a healthy woman and used to repair the faulty elements in another woman’s egg, leaving her able with a partner to produce a healthy baby.

During an often passionate debate, MPs – who enjoyed a free vote on the issue – voted by 382 to 128 to approve a change in the law for treatments that could ensure that children were spared "devastating and often fatal consequences", health minister Jane Ellison said.


The legislation now goes to the House of Lords. Objections are likely, particularly from senior Church of England bishops, but it should pass.

Prime minister David Cameron, who lost his severely disabled son Ivan to a severe epileptic disease, Ohtahara syndrome, voted in favour. "I know what parents go through when they are concerned about these issues," he said.

However, the MPs who were against were strongly so. Complaining that the vote had been rushed, Labour's Robert Flello said: "If these regulations were on genetically modified crops, we would all be up in arms."

The statutory instrument before MPs would “open the gates to a procedure that is completely untested, with no pre-clinical trials or clinical trials”, he said. “This is terrible. It is not good for the families with this chronic, horrible disease.”


Meanwhile, Conservative MP

Fiona Bruce

said the consequences could not be predicted. “Once the gene 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.”

However, Labour MP Liz McInnes, who once worked in the Royal Oldham Hospital where the world's first IVF baby Louise Brown was born in 1978, said doctors only knew for certain that IVF was safe after the first babies were born.

Research continued into IVF, just as it would into mitochondria, she said

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy is News Editor of the The Irish Times