HFEA agrees advice to government on donor mitochondrial DNA

20 March 2013

At an open meeting today UK fertility regulator the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) discussed the findings of its recent consultation on whether donor mitochondrial DNA should be permitted in IVF (see previous news), and reached agreement on the advice it will pass onto ministers.

The procedure replaces ‘faulty’ mitochondrial DNA from an affected mother’s egg with that of a healthy donor in order to prevent the resultant child from inheriting severe and incurable diseases. The process is currently not permitted under UK law, and its implementation is controversial chiefly because it is a germline therapy that will alter the mitochondrial genome of all subsequent generations. Mitochondrial DNA however, which is located outside of the nucleus, contains only a small number of genes and is not generally considered part of the main genome (see our previous commentary).

The HFEA said consultation responses had shown “broad support” for the procedure where there was risk of passing on serious mitochondrial disease, generally considered that the potential benefits outweighed the risks, and produced no evidence that it was unsafe.

The Authority agreed the following advice for ministers, in the event that they should choose to draft legislation:

  • The procedure should only be employed to avoid serious diseases.
  • Clinics offering the service should be specifically licensed by the HFEA to do so.
  • The HFEA should approve each use of the procedure initially.
  • Follow-up monitoring of resulting children should take place.
  • There should be no right for children to obtain identifying information about the donor, other than by mutual consent.
  • Further assessment of safety and efficacy should be commissioned by the HFEA once an application is received from a clinic.

In order for mitochondrial replacement to become legally permissible, it will need to pass in both Houses of Parliament. The HFEA now will formally pass its recommendations to the government, which will then decide whether to seek Parliamentary permission to allow the procedure to be used in the clinic.

The full HFEA meeting report can be accessed at: http://www.hfea.gov.uk/7784.html

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