i Editor's Letter: Science versus religion in the three-parent baby debate


Click to follow

We lead today’s i with an epic clash between church and scientists. On Tuesday, the House of Commons will vote on allowing “three-parent” babies – IVF embryos created by merging the genetic  material of eggs from two women with one man’s sperm.

The aim is to prevent deadly diseases, and allow women with mutations in their mitochondria to have healthy biological children. The technique has been held up for years because of concerns about safety. But today we report that the first such baby could now be conceived within months and born next year, if  Parliament approves the change in the law. Pioneering scientists at Newcastle University stand ready.

The Church of England and Catholic Church are unhappy: they doubt the plan is safe or ethical, and call for more  time to consider the science. What right do scientists have to play God? critics ask, fearing this will herald a “eugenic designer baby marketplace”.

Forty scientists immediately countered yesterday, calling on Parliament to approve the revolution. Five Nobel laureates argued that sick children should not have to wait for “the law to catch up with the science”. One baby in  every 6,500 is born with mitochondrial  disease, which can be fatal. A woman from Sunderland, Sharon Bernardi, interviewed last year, explained that she had lost all seven of her children to mitochondrial disease, six of them within hours of their birth: “I don’t want anyone to go through what we have been through.”

This is an experimental treatment. We cannot be sure it is safe until it is used on humans. But if carefully regulated – and we do carefully regulate these things in Britain – it is nothing to do with designer babies, but  overcoming devastating disease. The third-party DNA transfer is vital, and miniscule. A leap into the unknown? Yes. Hopefully, though, progress.


Twitter.com: @olyduff