LONDON (AP) — Britain is inviting the public to weigh in on draft rules allowing scientists to create embryos using DNA from three people — a man and two women — to prevent mothers from passing on potentially fatal genetic diseases.
The latest public review should be the last step before politicians consider changing the law to let doctors offer the new fertilization techniques to patients. Britain would be the first country to allow the procedure.
Britain’s department of health said Thursday it hopes to gather as many views as possible before introducing final regulations. The proposed rules have been published online People should respond by late May.
The public input isn’t meant to debate whether the techniques should be permitted. Instead, it concerns how they should be used to prevent relatively rare diseases caused by DNA defects in parts of the cell called mitochondria, such as muscular dystrophy, epilepsy, heart problems and mental retardation.
Mitochondria are energy-producing structures outside the cell’s nucleus. The new techniques involve removing the nucleus DNA from the egg of a prospective mother and inserting it into a donor egg, from which the nucleus DNA has been removed, either before or after fertilization.
The resulting child ends up with the nucleus DNA from its parents, but the mitochondrial DNA from the donor. Scientists say the DNA from the donor egg amounts to less than 1 percent of the resulting embryo’s genes. “Allowing mitochondrial donation would give women who carry severe mitochondrial disease the opportunity to have children without passing on devastating genetic disorders,” Dr. Sally Davies, chief medical officer, said.
British law forbids altering a human egg or embryo before transferring it into a woman, and such treatments are only allowed for research purposes.
When mitochondrial donation was first used to create an embryo in a British laboratory in 2008, tabloid headlines declared scientists had created a child with three parents — two biological mothers and a father. But scientists called that inaccurate, because there are only trace bits of genetic material from one woman.
Similar experiments are done in the United States, where the embryos are being used for research purposes. This week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration met to discuss the techniques.
Critics call it a breach of medical ethics and said women at risk of passing on mitochondrial diseases already have other safe ways of having children, such as using donated eggs.
Human Genetics Alert, a secular group in Britain that opposes many genetics and fertilization experiments, says it could lead to “a designer baby market.”
“The techniques have not passed the necessary safety tests, so it is unnecessary and premature to rush ahead with legalization,” said David King, the group’s director.