Artificial insemination up close.

England mulls legalization of in vitro technique giving baby DNA of three parents

CANTERBURY, England (RNS) Members of Parliament voted Tuesday (Feb. 3) to allow the creation of human embryos from the DNA of three people to try to eradicate a type of genetic disease that has caused the deaths of thousands of babies.

If the measure also passes Britain’s upper chamber, the House of Lords, England would become the first country to legalize the procedure.

Artificial insemination up close.

Artificial insemination up close.

“This is world-leading science within a highly respected regulatory regime and for the many families affected, this is light at the end of a very dark tunnel," said Health Minister Jane Ellison.

Prime Minister David Cameron voted in favor of the technique, which has provoked fierce ethical debate in Britain and elsewhere. Senior church figures called for the procedure to be blocked.

But if the House of Lords approves the bill, the first three-person baby could be born as soon as next year.

The technique could help women in England who have lost babies to mitochondrial disease.

Mitochondria are tiny compartments inside nearly every cell of the body that convert food into usable energy. They have their own DNA that does not affect characteristics such as appearance.

Defective mitochondria, which are passed down only from the mother, lead to brain damage, muscle wasting, heart failure and blindness. The controversial new technique uses a modified version of in vitro fertilization -- the process by which eggs are removed from ovaries and mixed with sperm in a laboratory dish -- to combine the DNA of the two parents with the healthy mitochondria of a donor woman. The technique has been dubbed in the media as the three-parent baby technique.

Last week, the Catholic and Anglican churches in England said the idea was neither safe nor ethical, not least because it involved the destruction of embryos.

“The human embryo is a new human life, and it should be respected and protected from the moment of conception," said Catholic Bishop John Sherrington. "This is a very serious step which Parliament should not rush into taking.”

The Rev. Brendan McCarthy, Church of England adviser of medical ethics, told the BBC: "We need to be absolutely clear that the techniques that will be used will be safe and we need to be absolutely sure that they will work." He said the ethics of the issues should be properly discussed.

Anglican Bishop Lee Rayfield of Swindon said the procedure was a "massive step" and some of his colleagues were concerned about how it was going to be regulated once it was approved. "If the safeguards are there," he said, "the Church of England will be behind this."

Sharon Bernardi of Sunderland, who has lost seven children, supports the new DNA plan. "I would ask the Church of England desperately to please look at the bigger picture and look at the children who have been affected by this dreadful disease," she said.

About one in every 6,500 babies is born with mitochondrial disease, which can be fatal.



  1. There are two types of concerns here.

    1. – that the method is not yet shown to be reasonably safe (to either the mother or the eventual child) in comparison to the disease.

    2. that embryos are destroyed in the process, or that this is “playing god”, or that “there are religious objections aside from #1, above”.

    Those two are very different. Of course any treatment must satisfy #1.

    However, objections based on #2 – religious objections – have no more merit that objecting that “the alien Hwaanazan from the planet Kolob will be offended”, or some similar delusion. Catholic or other religious zealots objecting for any reason aside from #1 are imposing their insanity upon us, and that’s no different from the imposition of Sharia law or other trampling of humans for religious reasons.

    How many times do we have to see delusions harming real people before we refuse to keep letting people harm others under the banner of religion?

  2. That the embryo is a new, unique individual of the human species is a scientific fact. That alone should be enough to cause us to reject procedures that kill them, which every instance of IVF does. Plus the Christian faith also rejects such procedures because each individual human being is made in the image and likeness of God and deserves our respect.

    An innocent human being’s life may never deliberately be taken, not for any reason. This is a bedrock principle of both natural and divine law. Without it, society becomes miserable. Size, location, stage of life, health, level of power, wantedness, the desire of others to take his or her life for some other goal (even a supposedly good one) – no such criteria changes that inviolable right of an innocent human being to not be killed. And once you allow any innocent human beings to be killed, everyone comes to be at risk in ways large and small because you have accepted the idea that I may harm others who are innocent if I have a “good” reason to do so… No, we can never cooperate with any of that…

    The embryo is a human being, one of our brothers or sisters. We all were embryos once, and we would not like it if someone had killed us…not even to do some kind of “good.”

    Instead, we need to put our efforts into solutions that don’t take human life. We can all understand the desire for solutions, but the solutions need to be life-affirming for all, including our brothers and sisters at the embryonic stage of their lives.

    The ends do NOT justify the means, and it is frightening to see our whole Western culture adopting an ends justify the means mentality…

    And I think we also implement this respect for human life by being kind to others in our comments. There is nothing delusional about believing in God, and religious persons have as much right as anyone else to make their arguments on the important issues of our day.

  3. The question is why? You can already use a donor egg, with or without the use of a surrogate birth-mother. Or you can adopt. I simply don’t see the need to add another layer of complexity and cost to the process.

    Perhaps it is time people got over this need to make little clones of themselves at any cost. There are real, live children out there in desperate need of a home. Yes, you lose the fun bit of saying “Johnny’s got my nose and his mother’s eyes”. But you will one day see that child display habits and mannerisms just like yours. Our son has a stubborn streak, to the point that my wife sometimes asks “Are you SURE you didn’t make this child?” 😉

  4. Erin, every time you are exposed to sunlight, mutations happen in your skin cells causing some of those cells to have different DNA than you. Thus, they too are “unique human individuals”, which could, under the right conditions, be grown into adult humans.

    Thus, every time you step outside and later take a shower, you are yourself destroying thousands of these unique human individuals. Yet, I have to ask – do you condemn people sunbathing? Do you stay indoors at all times? Do you avoid showers? Do you ensure that each and every one of those is implanted and grown to a full adult human?

    No? They you are restricting a real and helpful medical procedure while performing, every day, the same actions you suggest are reasons to sentence children to a horrible disease.

    So your own actions show that you don’t really buy all that stuff you wrote about cells being “unique human beings”. Of course they aren’t – you can’t interact with them, they clearly can’t think or experience anything, and are no more deserving of rights than my spleen.

    The same goes for the millions of embryos that die every day, since nearly all sexually active women produce a fertilized embryo every month – nearly all of which get no farther. Yet, I don’t see you out there holding funerals for each of these. Let me know when you start to do so. Thanks-

  5. How embarrassing that you don’t understand the natural biological processes.

  6. If you read the article, you would have read the reason for the process is to overcome genetic issues with some mothers which result in horrific health issues for their children.

    “or they can adopt”.

    Spoken like someone who is a complete stranger to the process.

    Adopting is a painfully slow and expensive process for most. Most children in desperate need of homes are in the foster care system and not legally released for adoption. Those few in this country usually have some issues which turn away many parents (health, emotional or developmental deficits).

    International adoption is increasingly difficult as well due to political and social situations in the countries which permit it. Adoption of newborns (typical in the US) is very expensive and has a great deal of uncertainty as birth mothers can repudiate an adoption agreement within a month of giving birth.

    Adoption is a process which easily takes years and is fraught with uncertainty. Surrogacy takes less than a year and usually is successful.

  7. Yes Frank, your ignorance is embarrassing. Anyone who considers failed IVF procedures as “taking life” is so far removed from reality and sanity that their POV can’t be taken seriously. But then again this is part and parcel with the nonsense of anti-choice rhetoric. One that posits that a fetus is a person deserving of rights and protection but a born worman isn’t.

  8. Apples and oranges. Don’t destroy your own credibility by forming arguments so far from the context at hand.

  9. Yes, man continues his march into the eternal abyss. In years past, people have dissed the Catholic Church’s teachings on artificial contraception, abortion, gay marriage, premarital sex, divorce and remarriage, etc., but I believe many of us might now begin to see the wisdom in it all, that those bedrock principles cannot be removed from society’s foundation without destabilizing it, sending a far reaching, rippling wave of destruction throughout the civilized world. And as we gaze out from the midst of the aftermath we don’t even see the carnage; we just chalk another one up to science. I really believe that this will likely be the straw that broke the camel’s back. It is interesting that way, way back in 1990, a prophecy was given, apparently by God the Father, and he warned of this very thing. I tend to dismiss those types of things, but this one seems to have hit the nail on the head. So … I will quote a little part of it: “My greatest nemesis is science … [t]he science that alters life … the science that toils with the womb and genes, the science … which seeks seeks to create life but cannot in actuality even sustain it, the science which has denied God. … This will fall, and all of its creations with it.”

  10. “Yes, man continues his march into the eternal abyss. In years past, people have dissed the Catholic Church’s teachings on artificial contraception, abortion, gay marriage, premarital sex, divorce and remarriage, etc.”

    Because they are arbitrary, harmful, irrational and not taken seriously except as excuses for self pious finger-wagging. They were never a foundation to society. Merely means of religious authorities exerting control over civil society. As someone who values religious freedom, I am happy to never be forced to give a flying crap what any church has to say about society. If you want to follow such rules, so be it. But nobody else is under any obligation to do so.

    “And as we gaze out from the midst of the aftermath we don’t even see the carnage; we just chalk another one up to science”

    “Science” wasn’t beheading and immolating people on video recently.

  11. Larry, there is a ripple effect from everything that is done, whether in the law, science, religion, or philosophy. Some ripple effects are good, others are very bad. At present, the family is being decimated. The destruction of the family has come about as the result of a multitude of things: but it seems to have happened in this order: pornography, artificial contraception (easier to cheat), rubber stamp divorces, keeping God out of the schools, separation of church and state (which has become freedom “from” religion), pre-marital sex becoming the norm (why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free), in-vitro fertilization (only need sperm and not man), gay marriage, and now designer babies. I will say this much, once the family is fully destroyed, our society as we know it is kaput.

  12. Greg, people have been bemoaning the “disintegration of the family” and “erosion of values” for centuries. Reactionaries are always there to pretend there was a mythical past when their ideas were accepted on their merits not just imposed upon people.

    There is nothing more pointless, arbitrary and ridiculous than religious attacks on scientific discovery for its own sake. There are issues of ethics, but that is not the same as saying, “God forbids this research”.

    Morality and religious belief are not the same thing. If anything religious morality is relativistic nonsense or no morality at all. When one claims their moral being is guided by God’s word, they can excuse any action, no matter how atrocious. One avoids moral decisions and relies on self-interest of divine reward/punishment.

    Frankly your attitudes to both marriage equality and fertility medicine are whiny, ridiculous and denote a desire to impose your beliefs upon others. Both create families, foster bonds between people. Just not ones you like. Because your God has some arbitrary and irrational rules which are not worthy taking seriously.

  13. Larry,
    All anyone needs to do is look around to see the devastation to the family. The disintegration of the family has unraveled more in the last 15 years than it had in the thousands up years leading up to that point. The problem with scientific discoveries, is we’ve become blind to the shift in the moral lines. The embryonic stem cell “research” is an example. Early on in this horror we call science, the push back from the public was huge, and forced them to only use the embryos they had on hand to continue their research, now they are using living embryos to extract stem cells from. That type of science is sick. In fact we can see the slippery slope we’ve slithered down with so called “great” discoveries and practices such as in vitro fertilization. I’m all for science, in fact I work in the field, but I know the moral limits, and how they have been crossing those lines now for years.

  14. “All anyone needs to do is look around to see the devastation to the family. ”

    Actually looks are quite deceiving. But those who have a vested interest in imposing their will on what constitutes a “proper family” will always see rot where it does not exist. Your claim of alleged increased disintegration of the family in the last 15 years is complete fiction.

    You want to see what disintegrates families, then get your head out of the church and into workplaces. Economic stress is the leading cause of strife with couples these days. But you are not interested in facts, you want to stump for your faith.

    You obviously have no respect for religious beliefs besides your own, hence bemoaning the separation of church and state which protects them. You want to impose arbitrary limits to science for reasons which lack any basis in rational thought or ethics/morality.

    Stem cell research is one of the most promising areas of study for medicine so far. In vitro fertilization has allowed many families to be with children throughout the world.

  15. I said “embryonic” stem cell research, is morally unjust. I did not say the entire stem cell research program is bad. Morally reasonable scientific research is very good, but whenever a life is taken to save another life, then that is very bad. Or when multiple lives are created (eggs fertilized), and only one chosen to live, then that is also problematic (IVF).

  16. Cont… Larry, what if someone were to propose taking all the criminals locked up with either life imprisonment, or on death row, and take these persons, place them in medically induced comas, then use their bodies for scientific research–for the common good of all future people? Their argument would be, hey, they are of no use to society anymore, so let’s make the best use of them. And if you were to agree with that, then once that line is crossed (that moral line), then they’d say, we have no more prisoners to experiment with, so now let’s take all people who are paralyzed, and use them, as they are only a mere hindrance to society. And once they run out of those experimental beings, then comes those with lower intelligence, then after that, you and me. I guess I’d have to ask you where you stand on this theoretical issue?

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