Three-Parent Babies on Way in Britain; Critics Fear Designer Kids

Friday, 28 Feb 2014 11:03 AM

By Michael Mullins

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Three-parent babies are on the way in Britain, but critics of the special fertility treatment worry it could lead to "designer babies."

On Thursday, Britain published draft regulations that would make it the first country in the world to offer "three-parent" fertility treatments to families, Reuters reported.

The proposed treatment would replace a mother's damaged DNA with that of a healthy donor and prevent the passing down of inherited mitochondrial defects. If successful, the procedure would effectively guarantee their child would not inherit diseases such as muscular dystrophy, epilepsy, and some heart and liver conditions.

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Though praised by some physicians and scientists, the "three-parent" fertility treatment has also been roundly criticized by others, including ethicists and religious organizations that fear it will lead to eugenic "designer babies."

"Every time we get a little closer to genetic tinkering to promote health — that’s exciting and scary," Dr. Alan Copperman, director of the division of reproductive endocrinology and infertility at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, told The New York Times on Tuesday.

"People are afraid it will turn into a dystopian brave new world. The most exciting part, scientifically, is to be able to prevent or fix an error in the genetic machinery," Copperman added.

One of those people who has expressed apprehension to Britain's decision is David King of the campaign group Human Genetics Alert.

"If passed, this will be the first time any government has legalized inheritable human genome modification, something that is banned in all other European countries," King said in a statement this week. "Such a decision of major historical significance requires a much more extensive public debate."

King appeared to have toned down his rhetoric from last June, when Britain's ministers initially gave the procedure the green light to proceed. At the time, King called the techniques "unnecessary and unsafe," adding that "it is a disaster that the decision to cross the line that will eventually lead to a eugenic designer baby market should be taken on the basis of an utterly biased and inadequate consultation."

One in 6,500 babies in the United Kingdom is born with a mitochondrial disorder, which can lead to serious health issues particularly heart and liver diseases, CNN reported.

As the controversial three-parent baby procedure appears to be moving forward across the pond, the issue is still being debated in the United States.

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Earlier in the week, a Food and Drug Administration panel met in Maryland to discuss whether lab experiments of three-parent IVF should progress to human testing, The Washington Post reported.

According to Reuters, the FDA's primary concern is with the science of the testing, not the ethical issues, with some committee members having raised safety concerns, suggesting that just because testing on animals had been safe, it may not be so for women and children born by the procedure.

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