Britain Plans for "Three-Parent" Babies

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
June 28 2013 11:59 AM

Britain Is Moving Closer to Having "Three-Parent" IVF Babies

164121449
A mother holds her premature newborn in the neo-natal ward of the Delafontaine hospital in Saint Denis near Paris on March 19, 2013

File photo by Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images

Britain is inching toward making history by becoming the first country in the world to approve controversial "three-parent" fertility treatments to help couples avoid passing rare genetic diseases to their children. As the name implies, the process involves DNA from three different people: a mother, a father and a female donor. The science fiction-sounding technique results in the implantation of the genetically modified embryo into the birth mother. Reuters explains the science-y details [British spelling theirs]:

The techniques involve intervening in the fertilisation process to remove faulty mitochondrial DNA, which can cause inherited conditions such as fatal heart problems, liver failure, brain disorders, blindness and muscular dystrophy. [The techniques] are designed to help families with mitochondrial diseases—incurable conditions passed down the maternal line that affect around one in 6,500 children worldwide.
Advertisement

Clearly, this new fertility treatment would be revolutionary. To put things in perspective, about one in 200 children is born every year in Britain with a mitochondrial disorder, according to the Associated Press. But the procedure also raises a whole slew of ethical questions, as the chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, Lisa Jardine, laid out in an interview with The Telegraph last year:

"Here, we are going that mile further which is a genetic modification of the egg. That is uncharted territory. I feel very strongly that once we have genetic modification we have to be damn sure that we are happy, because this is not about us. This is not about our children. It's not even about our grandchildren. It's about many generations down the line what the consequences might be."

The British government's chief physician, Sally Davies, announced today that her health department would draft regulations to cover the new treatment, and plans to publish them later this year. A final decision on whether the treatment would be open to British patients would be subject to a vote in parliament, but Davies said she hopes it will be available within the next two years. (According to the Associated Press, similar research is going on in in the U.S., but the embryos are not being used to produce children.)

Jennifer Lai is an associate editor at Slate.

TODAY IN SLATE

Sports Nut

Grandmaster Clash

One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company

Science

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

Food

How to Order Chinese Food

First, stop thinking of it as “Chinese food.”

Scotland Is Inspiring Secessionists Across America

You Shouldn’t Spank Anyone but Your Consensual Sex Partner

Moneybox
Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Jurisprudence
Sept. 18 2014 10:42 AM Scalia’s Liberal Streak The conservative justice’s most brilliant—and surprisingly progressive—moments on the bench.
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
Education
Sept. 18 2014 12:30 PM “Alt-Ac” to the Rescue? Humanities Ph.D.s are daring to enjoy their “regular” jobs, and the definition of academic success is changing. Sort of.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 18 2014 12:03 PM The NFL Opines on “the Role of the Female”
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 18 2014 11:48 AM Watch the Hilarious First Sketch From Season 4 of Key & Peele
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 18 2014 10:07 AM “The Day It All Ended” A short story from Hieroglyph, a new science fiction anthology.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 18 2014 7:30 AM Red and Green Ghosts Haunt the Stormy Night
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.