The Current

3-Parent Babies: Genetic modification sparks debate on evolution

Three parents and one healthy baby. Britain's move to become the first country to allow mitochondrial DNA donation techniques to be used in IVF treatment, is being applauded as a way to avoid debilitating conditions in children. But it involves transplanting a tiny amount of DNA from a third person and that - to others - crosses a line into...
Three parents and one healthy baby. Britain's move to become the first country to allow mitochondrial DNA donation techniques to be used in IVF treatment, is being applauded as a way to avoid debilitating conditions in children. But it involves transplanting a tiny amount of DNA from a third person and that - to others - crosses a line into human genetic modification. 

Mitochondrial disease is like when you can't convert your food to energy. The acidosis in the blood poisons the internal organs. You liver, your kidneys, your heart is affected. Also your brain. A lot of the babies die very quickly. Some might get over 2 years. Having to bury 7 children...it's not what a mother is supposed to do.Sharon Bernardi lost seven children to a genetic disease called mitochondrial disease

Sharon Bernardi is celebrating that she will soon have access to a treatment that may allow her to have a healthy baby.... albeit in a very unconventional way. She has has mitochondrial disease -- an ailment that affects one of the basic building blocks of our cells, and it's an ailment that can be passed down from mother to child, with devastating results.

There is a potential solution, which could save other parents from experiencing the same grief Sharon Bernardi has. But it's a controversial procedure -- it involves in-vitro fertilization, with a twist. Mitochondrial DNA from another woman -- free of mitochondrial disease -- is added to the nuclear DNA from the father and mother. That means the child should be born without mitochondrial disease.

But it also means the child is born having three parents.

The practice remains illegal in Canada, but this week the British House of Commons voted to make the United Kingdom the first country in the world to allow mitochondrial DNA donation.

Dr. Gillian Lockwood supports the new bill. She is a Reproductive Ethicist and the Medical Director at the Midland Fertility Clinic in Tamworth, England.

While the move by the British House of Commons may be a boon for the women with the potential to have children with mitochondrial diseases, there are important questions about its broader implications.

Francoise Baylis is Canada Research Chair in Ethics and Philosophy at Dalhousie University. She was in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica.


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This segment was produced by The Current's Sujata Berry and Ines Colabrese.

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