The Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority in the U.K. has begun consulting the public over whether a new in vitro fertilization (IVF) technique that prevents mitochondrial diseases is ethical.
The technique, known as mitochondrial replacement, enables women to give birth to children with less risk of passing on a mitochondrial disease. Mitochondrial diseases can sometimes cause muscle weakness, intestinal disorders, heart disease, and shorten life expectancy. According to the HFEA, around 1 in 200 children are born with a form of mitochondrial disease.
So what's the catch? The mitochondrial replacement technique uses mitochondria from a donor to replace the mitochondria in a pre-implantation IVF embryo. The embryo is then implanted as normal. Any children born this way will share a small amount of DNA with the donor, meaning he or she would technically have three biological parents, and could eventually pass the donor's DNA on.
The HFEA, which is an independent regulator, has been asked by the U.K. government to "seek public views" on whether the technique should be available to couples who risk passing a mitochondrial disease to their child.
“The Government has asked us to take the public temperature on this important and emotive issue," said HFEA Chair Lisa Jardine. "The decision about whether mitochondria replacement should be made available to treat patients is not only an issue of great importance to families affected by these terrible diseases, but is also one of enormous public interest. We find ourselves in unchartered territory, balancing the desire to help families have healthy children with the possible impact on the children themselves and wider society.
"We will use our considerable experience of explaining complicated areas of science and ethics to the public to generate a rich debate that is open to all.”