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Church Concern over 'Three Parent Babies'

 Thursday December 15 2016

The Church of Scotland's Society, Religion and Technology Project has expressed concern about today's decision by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) on so called 'three parent babies'. 
 
Dr Murdo Macdonald, a geneticist with over 20 years international research experience and Policy Officer with the Church's Society, Religion and Technology Project said: “I would urge the HFEA to consider very carefully before proceeding to license any clinical use of these techniques. This is the first instance of regulatory approval for genetic modification of a human baby. A strong and long-standing international consensus asserts that we should not cross this ethical ‘bright line’, since to do so will very likely lead to a future of genetically modified, ‘enhanced’ and ‘designer’ babies. Genetic enhancement also risks dehumanising and commodifying relationships between children and their parents. These consequences cannot be ignored in reflecting on the present decision.”
 
“We have concerns not just with the 'direction of travel' with this research, but also the speed at which the UK is moving down this road. Many other countries expressly prohibit the development of this kind of technology, and many within the scientific community have also raised concerns.”
 
The HFEA has approved the clinical use of novel techniques (Maternal Spindle Transfer and Pro-Nuclear Transfer) which have been portrayed as means of treating mitochondrial disease.

Dr Macdonald argues that, in addition to the potential social consequences, these techniques create significant risks to the prospective child. Prevention of mitochondrial disease can be more safely and reliably accomplished through a variety of other techniques, including egg donation. The benefit of ‘mitochondrial replacement’ is that it fulfils the mother’s desire to be genetically related to her child. Such desires, while  understandable, are not a medical benefit.

Dr Macdonald said: “In our view, the benefit for a relatively small number of women of being genetically related to their children do not nearly justify the potential health risks to the child and the harmful consequences for society of the advent of human genetic engineering.

"Our careful consideration of this issue over a number of years includes the professional experience of people who work with children with severe physical disabilities. We are very aware of the effects on the children and their families caused by their long term ill health, their low quality of life, their debilitating suffering and the devastation of a premature death.  We are also aware of some of conditions which are the result of severe mitochondrial disease, and realise no one can fully understand the pain experienced by a parent who knows that this was caused by a condition handed down to their child.”


Comments

Rev Dr John Cameron - Friday, December 16th, 2016

“The first of what has been pejoratively called “three-parent-babies” could be born in the UK next year following a decision giving the fertility technique the go-ahead. Babies born using mitochondrial replacement therapy (MRT) receive a tiny amount of DNA from another woman in addition to the parents to replace their faulty genes. One in 200 children is born with faulty mitochondrial genes leading to fatal conditions affecting vital organs, muscles, vision, growth and mental ability. I await snide remarks about “playing god” from the usual suspects but for a clergyman who has seen the devastating effects of such genes, MRT can only increase the sum of human happiness. ”


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