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MPs vote overwhelmingly in favour of mitochondrial donation

4 February 2015
Appeared in BioNews 789

MPs have voted overwhelmingly in favour of government regulations permitting the use of mitochondrial donation in treatment. Mitochondrial donation involves using biological material from three people - the child's parents, plus a female mitochondrial donor - to conceive a child, while avoiding the transmission of mitochondrial diseases from mother to child. The House of Commons voted by 382 to 128 to pass the regulations, a majority of 254.

Conservative health minister Jane Ellison introduced the debate by saying that 'the techniques provided for by these regulations offer the only hope for some women who carry the disease to have healthy, genetically related children who will not suffer from the devastating and often fatal consequences of serious mitochondrial disease'. She noted the many deliberations concerning mitochondrial donation that have taken place in recent years, both within Parliament (see BioNews 770) and outside Parliament (see BioNews 698), and argued that 'we have taken all the necessary rigorous steps towards the point at which Parliament can make an informed decision'.

Labour and Cooperative shadow health minister Luciana Berger spoke next, citing a debate on mitochondrial donation which the Progress Educational Trust (PET, the charity that publishes BioNews) had organised in the Houses of Parliament the previous evening: 'Only last night, an event held in Committee Room 10 was attended by hundreds of people who are interested in the debate, and we heard representations from both sides.' Luciana Berger also referred to a recent letter in support of mitochondrial donation published in The Times, whose signatories included five Nobel laureates and PET's patron Baroness Mary Warnock (see BioNews 788). It was Baroness Warnock who, more than three decades ago, devised the framework that is still used to regulate fertility treatment and embryo research in the UK.

Labour MP Frank Dobson, a veteran of Parliamentary debates about fertility and embryology, discussed Baroness Warnock's legacy and said he had 'a sense of déjà vu, or perhaps déjà entendu'. He drew a parallel between opposition to mitochondrial donation, and the opposition that was faced by IVF when it was still a novel technique. This parallel was echoed by others in the debate including Conservative MP and former science minister David Willetts, who said: 'I had the privilege of going to the Nobel Prize ceremony for Robert Edwards, who won the Nobel Prize for his work on IVF, which would probably not have passed through the levels of scrutiny we require of research today.'

Those who spoke in opposition to mitochondrial donation included Conservative MP Sir Bill Cash, who argued that the regulations contravened UK and European law. Labour MP Robert Flello claimed that similar techniques had been attempted before with adverse consequences, but his fellow Labour MP Liz McInnes (a former biochemist) retorted that the example to which he referred was very different to mitochondrial donation.

Meanwhile, Conservative MPs Fiona Bruce, David Burrowes and Steve Baker all took issue with the government's argument that mitochondrial donation does not constitute genetic modification. In response, Jane Ellison sought to clarify the definitions employed by the government, while Liberal Democrat MP Dr Julian Huppert (a former genetics researcher) sought to clarify the difference between mitochondrial DNA and nuclear DNA.

Jane Ellison concluded by arguing that 'this is a bold step for Parliament to make, but it is a considered and informed one'. Now that the regulations have been passed by the House of Commons, they will next be debated in the House of Lords.

Human Fertilisation and Embryology
House of Commons |  3 February 2015
Leading figures express support for mitochondrial donation
Wellcome Trust |  29 January 2015
18 November 2019 - by Dr Marieke Bigg 
The former Labour health secretary Frank Dobson, whose contributions in Parliament helped to pass the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, passed away on 11 November 2019, aged 79...
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2 November 2015 - by Dr Katie Howe 
Regulations that came into force this week will enable the UK to be the first country in the world to allow the use of mitochondrial donation techniques during IVF...
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