UK presses ahead with plans to legalise 3-person IVF

23 July 2014

The UK Department of Health has said that plans to legalise ‘3-person IVF’ or mitochondrial transfer are moving forward.

The recent consultation on the issue received nearly 2,000 responses. Based on consideration of the views expressed in the consultation, the Department of Health (DoH) has now decided to continue with plans to attempt to modify UK legislation to make use of the technique to allow the conception of genetic children of mothers with diseased mitochondria via IVF using donor egg cells with healthy mitochondria.

The DoH says it will continue with plans that regulator the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA)  would ‘have to be satisfied that there is both a particular risk of mitochondrial abnormality and a significant risk the person will develop a serious illness or condition’, considering each application on a case-by-case basis.

It also says that only non-identifying information about the mitochondrial donor will be released to people born following mitochondrial donation when they reach age 16, as opposed to the fuller disclosure available for children born following normal sperm or egg donation. There will also be clarification of the consent requirements for the use and storage of eggs and embryos used in the mitochondrial donation techniques.

Some are pressing for the UK government to speed up progression towards the legal changes necessary to allow the technique to be used, but the latest announcement says that the HFEA will also take into account the recent recommendations of an expert scientific advisory panel, which called for further investigation of safety issues first. There is concern over the potential risk of harm to children born via this technique, or in particular the children of these children. Some also object to this as the first proposal to permit germ-line (ie. heritable) genetic modification in humans. However, the government is keen to drive forward the UK’s technical expertise in mitochondrial transfer as part of their ‘health and wealth’ agenda.

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