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Australia announces conscience vote on mitochondrial donation

8 February 2021
Appeared in BioNews 1082

The Australian Parliament is set to have its first vote on legislation permitting the use of mitochondrial donation.

A new bill proposes a two-stage approach, legalising the use of mitochondrial donation through an initial pilot site before permitting it in broader clinical practice. It has been confirmed by Australian prime minister Scott Morrison – who is 'very supportive' of the bill – that coalition MPs and senators will be allowed a 'free' vote on the legislation.

'There will be a free vote on this, and it's for each member to ultimately make up their mind,' Morrison told News.com.au. 'But I do hope we can go forward here where science allows us to do this. And as you know, I'm a person who has strong religious beliefs as well but it presents no difficulty for me on this issue.... And I think the compassionate thing to do here is to find a way where if we can avoid that horrific, horrific suffering then I believe we should.'

Mitochondrial donation is an assisted reproductive procedure which can prevent transmission of mitochondrial DNA disease from parents to their biological children. Between one in 5000 and one in 10,000 people are likely to develop severe mitochondrial disease during their lifetime, with approximately one child per week born with a severe form of the disease. Common symptoms include developmental delays, seizures, weakness and fatigue, multiple organ failure and heart problems.

The proposed legislation follows a decade of scientific and ethical review of mitochondrial donation within Australia, including public consultations. A report on one consultation by the National Health and Medical Research Council noted several submissions expressing concern about the use and destruction of one embryo in order to allow for the creation of another embryo with healthy mitochondria. The NHMRC recommended that the Government continue consulting with the public, as it moves to legalise the procedure.

As part of an ongoing consultation process, the Australian Department of Health has called on members of the public, interested stakeholders and experts to share their feedback and comments. Overall, there is strong support among medical and scientific experts for legalising the procedure in Australia, but most supporters want a cautious and regulated approach.

In a statement to News.com.au, Sean Murray, chief executive officer of Mito Foundation, welcomed the Government's decision: 'Every step and every vote for legalising mitochondrial donation is a step in the right direction.... Legalising mitochondrial donation in Australia will allow parents to reduce the risk of their children developing mitochondrial disease and of this terrible disease being passed on through future generations.'

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Ground-breaking technique to reduce risk of potentially fatal genetic diseases could soon be legal in Australia
ABC |  3 February 2021
Harnessing new technology to save lives
Australian Government Department of Health |  5 February 2021
Mitochondrial donation
Australian Government Department of Health |  5 February 2021
Mitochondrial donation in Australia
Australian Government Department of Health |  5 February 2021
Scott Morrison backs three-person IVF and announces conscience vote
news.com.au |  4 February 2021
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