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House of Lords gives green light to mitochondrial donation

2 March 2015
Appeared in BioNews 792

The House of Lords has voted by 280 to 48 to pass regulations permitting mitochondrial donation. This makes the UK the first country in the world to legislate for the use of mitochondrial donation techniques in treatment.

These techniques are intended to avoid the transmission of mitochondrial disease from mother to child. The Lords' decision follows a debate in the House of Commons earlier this month, where MPs also voted - by 382 to 128 - in favour of the regulations (see BioNews 770).

Government minister Earl Frederick Howe introduced the debate in the House of Lords, discussing three expert scientific reviews of the safety and efficacy of mitochondrial donation that have been conducted over the past few years. 'Families can see that the technology is there to help them and are keen to take it up. They have noted the conclusions of the expert panel. It would be cruel and perverse, in my judgment, to deny them that opportunity for any longer than absolutely necessary.'

Lord Deben (formerly the MP and government minister known as John Gummer) tabled a so-called 'fatal amendment', which threatened to prevent the government's regulations from being passed. He argued that 'there is considerable disagreement... about whether this action is legal under European law', and that 'there are real doubts about safety'.

The debate that followed lasted four hours, and included impassioned contributions from all sides. Professor Lord Robert Winston, the fertility expert, argued that 'it would be utterly wrong for this House to turn down the democratically elected chamber and not to support what the government propose'.

Viscount Matt Ridley took exception to Lord Deben's suggestion that Parliament had been rushed into a decision on this issue. 'Far from being hurried, it has been under development for more than 30 years, under debate for 15 and under scrutiny for five. There is nothing slippery about this slope. There has been no rush. Now, however, that we have reached this stage there jolly well should be some reasonable haste on behalf of the women whose reproductive life is running out and who desperately want their own child.'

Ultimately, Lord Deben's amendment was rejected by the House of Lords, and the mitochondrial donation regulations were supported. The UK's fertility regulator, the HFEA, is now empowered to consider issuing treatment licenses to clinicians who wish to offer mitochondrial donation.

Professors Doug Turnbull and Alison Murdoch, two of the researchers at Newcastle University who have pioneered mitochondrial donation techniques, welcomed the result. 'This is wonderful news for patients and families affected by mitochondrial disease', said Professor Turnbull. 'We hope to be able to submit a treatment application to the HFEA when regulatory policies have been determined', said Professor Murdoch.

Sarah Norcross, Director of the Progress Educational Trust (PET, the charity that publishes BioNews) said: 'This is a victory for reproductive choice. The people best placed to decide whether mitochondrial donation is the right option are the families who stand to benefit, in consultation with their clinicians.'

Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Mitochondrial Donation) Regulations 2015
House of Lords |  24 February 2015
19 December 2016 - by Annabel Slater 
The UK has become first country in the world to formally approve the creation of IVF embryos through mitochondrial donation...
23 May 2016 - by Dr Rosie Morley 
A study has identified a potential problem with mitochondrial donation, an IVF technique that aims to prevent the transmission of faulty mitochondria from mother to child...
1 February 2016 - by Ryan Ross 
UK fertility doctors are seeking permission to trial a new IVF treatment that involves transferring additional mitochondria into egg cells before fertilisation...
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...
26 October 2015 - by Jessica Richardson 
A test which measures mitochondrial DNA levels in the embryo could help increase IVF success rates, scientists claim...
23 February 2015 - by Sarah Norcross 
Earlier this month, a large majority of MPs voted in favour of Regulations that permit mitochondrial donation to be used in treatment. But mitochondrial donation will not become lawful in the UK unless the House of Lords also supports the Regulations, and the deciding vote is due to take place on 24 February...
16 February 2015 - by Professor Frances Flinter 
Over the last 30 years I have met some remarkable families, from whom I have learned about the rewards and challenges of caring for relatives with incurable genetic conditions....
16 February 2015 - by Philippa Taylor 
In a recent Progress Educational Trust debate, 'Mitochondrial Donation: Is It Safe? Is It Ethical?', I spoke about the ethical issues raised by techniques to avoid the passing on of inherited mitochondrial disorders...
9 February 2015 - by Dr Rachel Montgomery 
Held at the Houses of Parliament, and organised by the Progress Educational Trust (the charity that publishes BioNews), this public debate was well attended. With all the chairs taken and many more people standing, people clearly felt it was important to discuss these issues...
4 February 2015 - by Sandy Starr 
The House of Commons voted by 382 to 128 to pass regulations permitting mitochondrial donation, a majority of 254...
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