On 4th February 2015, the UK parliament passed a bill by 382 votes to 128 to legalise a form of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) pioneered in Newcastle using a third person’s genetic material to prevent serious inherited diseases. The novel technique of replacing faulty mitochondria with a donor’s healthy mitochondria will mean that affected parents will be able to conceive a healthy child who would otherwise have been affected and would have risked passing on the disease themselves. The technique uses healthy donor mitochondria to replace the faulty mitochondria.
During the debate, MPs were told that the risks were small but the benefits were enormous. The debate followed a public consultation, favourable scientific reviews by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) and ethics approval by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics. The bill also had the backing of the Commons Science and Technology select committee.
Public health minister, Jane Ellison, told MPs that mitochondrial DNA made up only 0.054% of a person’s DNA and comprised none of the nuclear DNA that determines personal characteristics and traits. Despite the scientific support, vigorous opposition came from many religious organisations. Despite the bill being provisional on further safety checks and endorsement by the HFEA, some opponents challenged the potential safety and feared that the technique would be ‘playing God’. The bill was opposed by the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church of England and Wales, the Islamic Medical Association UK and the Christian Medical Fellowship.
If the bill passes through the House of Lords, the UK would become the first country in the world to legalise the procedure.