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Conservative MP says mitochondrial donation will produce 'genetically modified children'

17 March 2014
Appeared in BioNews 746

The Conservative MP for North East Somerset, Jacob Rees-Mogg, has said that mitochondrial donation will produce 'genetically modified children' with 'three parents', and was 'effectively cloning'. He also described mitochondrial donation as a 'multi-generational experiment' that 'tampered with human souls'.

Rees-Mogg made the comments in a Parliamentary debate on Wednesday, during which some MPs expressed concern over the safety and ethics of using mitochondrial donation to enable women with defective mitochondria to have healthy children.

In her response, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health, Jane Ellison, asserted that mitochondrial donation'did not constitute a form of human cloning' since 'any children resulting from the use of the technique would have arisen from fertilisation and be genetically unique'. This contrasts with cloning, where the offspring produced are genetically identical to the 'parent'.

Ellison also referenced an ethical review of mitochondrial donation by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, which rejected the idea that mitochondrial donation represented a 'third parent' (reported in BioNews 661). This is in agreement with the findings of a public consultation on mitochondrial donation by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, which considered that mitochondrial donors are best thought of as similar to organ or tissue donors.

Mitochondrial DNA constitutes less than one percent of a person's genome, and is separate from nuclear DNA. Mitochondrial replacement involves removing the nuclear genetic material from an egg or embryo with unhealthy mitochondria and transferring it to a donor egg or embryo with healthy mitochondria. The technique, Ellison explained, gives 'women the choice to have genetically related children without the risk of serious disease', which could initially help ten to 20 families a year.

In her statement, Ellison highlighted the nature and impact of mitochondrial diseases. 'Some affected children live short and painful lives', she said; adding that 'the quality of life for them and their families is seriously diminished'. Clinical features of mitochondrial disease include muscle weakness, learning difficulties, heart disease and blindness, with one in 6,500 babies so severely affected they die in early infancy.

In additional to ethical reservations, Rees-Mogg also raised concerns over safety, citing a study in Nature that reported chromosomal abnormalities in 52 percent of embryos created following one method of mitochondrial transfer. This interpretation contrasted with that of the study's lead researcher, Dr Shoukhrat Mitalipov, who stated that the process was, in his view, 'safe enough at this stage to proceed to clinical trials [in humans]' (reported in BioNews 679).

Ellison confirmed that a full Parliamentary debate on the issue would take place.

She also revealed she was 'sure' that a Parliamentary ruling on mitochondrial donation would be 'decided by votes of conscience'.
GM babies: Conscience vote for MPs expected
The Christian Institute |  13 March 2014
HFEA agrees advice to Government on the ethics and science of mitochondria replacement
HFEA |  20 March 2013
House of Commons Hansard Debate for 12 March 2014
Hansard |  12 March 2014
MPs will be given free vote on 'three parent babies'
Daily Telegraph |  12 March 2014
28 September 2015 - by Brendan Foht 
Compared to the frenzy over human cloning a decade ago, in recent years the issue has received very little political attention. But as the ongoing fights over CRISPR and mitochondrial replacement show, some of the underlying debates are still with us...
4 August 2014 - by Siobhan Chan 
The UK Government has been accused of deliberately misleading the public in order to win approval over its plans to implement mitochondrial replacement techniques in IVF...
21 July 2014 - by Professor Vardit Ravitsky, Dr John Appleby, Professor Stephen Wilkinson, Dr Anthony Wrigley and Dr Annelien Bredenoord 
Ethical dimensions of the emerging technology of mitochondrial replacement were the focus of a symposium that took place on 25 June at the 12th World Congress of Bioethics in Mexico City....
9 June 2014 - by Alice Plein 
Two experimental IVF techniques that could prevent certain types of incurable genetic disease are 'not unsafe', a report from the UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has found....
24 March 2014 - by Professor Janna Thompson 
MP Jacob Rees-Mogg recently implied that mitochondrial transfer is akin to eugenics, but it is a way of combating debilitating ailments rather than producing 'perfect' human beings...
3 March 2014 - by Patricia Cassidy 
The UK Department of Health has published draft guidelines for the use of new techniques to prevent mothers passing on serious mitochondrial diseases to their children. The guidelines will be the subject of a three-month consultation...
3 March 2014 - by Chee Hoe Low 
The USA's Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is considering whether to allow human clinical trials of mitochondrial replacement, an IVF technique that uses gametes from three people...
24 February 2014 - by Dr Roger Sturmey 
The description of mitochondrial transfer as 'three-person IVF' may conjure up some unnerving perceptions of the consequences, and may be met in the public arena with discomfort, but it's worth considering the fundamental aspects of this approach...
21 October 2013 - by Ruth Saunders 
The health regulator in the USA is considering whether clinical trials of mitochondrial replacement techniques should go ahead....
Comment ( - 18/03/2014)
Clearly more understanding is needed, before MP's can sensibly debate Mitochondrial Donation. Talk of 'souls' suggest to me, a religious objection!
I was always under the misguided impression that the basis of religion, was to be considerate and caring to those in society, who are desperate and need our help. But obviously I got that one wrong! It is ethically unacceptable to deny affected families a medical solution, which will stop mitochondrial disease for ever! The alternative is not an option.
Mitochondrial disease is not rare, 1:200 new borns are affected!  However, severely affected cases are rare, 1:6500 and it is this group that Mitochondrial Donation is aimed at!  I lost my son at the age 40 with MELAS and his mother 12 years earlier. I just wish this technique was available to us in 1970 had we known we had a problem, which we didn't, we would have taken whatever the small risk.
Unfortunately, many of the MPs debating Mitochondrial Donation will not have been within a million miles of the disease, otherwise they would see the despair and suffering of those affected. We can only hope that this fantastic medical advancement is adopted and that common sense and decency prevails.
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