A Manchester reverend has warned that parliament’s ruling in favour of ‘three-parent babies’ must not lead to the creation of ‘perfect’ children in the future.
MPs voted in favour of the controversial treatment yesterday in an historic move which could see babies created with the DNA of a ‘second mother’ as early as next year.
The procedure replaces a small amount of faulty DNA in a mother’s egg with healthy DNA from a second woman to prevent the baby inheriting any genetic diseases.
However, Reverend Cody Coyne, Unitarian Minister of Cross Street Chapel in Manchester, says although he supports any measures which help lower the risk of mitochondrial disease, we should not rely on medical advances to predetermine ‘what human life should be’.
He told MM: “Coming from a religious tradition that has and continues to encourage scientific achievement, I support new measures to help provide people with a lower risk of mitochondrial disease.
“While this procedure reduces the risk of illness, it must not be seen as the only solution, nor become the means by which a ‘perfect’ baby is created – as all babies are born perfect, illness or not.
“We will always live in the chaos of nature and medical advances, while seeking to redress illness, may discover that initial findings and procedures provide unexpected outcomes and side-effects.”
Those opposed to the change in current law – which says genetically altered embryos cannot be implanted into a woman – have argued ‘three-parent babies’ could be at greater risk of cancer and premature ageing.
The opposition has also aired concerns about how the first unborn children to be treated will essentially be human guinea pigs.
However, a senior lecturer in bioethics at The University of Manchester says the change in law is ‘a good thing’ and although it is ‘a bit of a step into the unknown’ it’s certainly, ‘not a reckless step.’
Dr Iain Brassington told MM: “It is true that there is a risk of harm to the future child – and, because of the nature of the technology, to an indefinite number of future generations.
“However, the same concerns apply to any new medical technique; if they are not enough to end all medical innovation whatsoever, it is hard to see why they should be enough here.
“Of course somebody will have to be first but Louise Brown was the first test tube baby and everything seems to have worked out okay on that front.
“The relevant question to ask is not whether the procedure is risky. We can take it as read that all possible steps have been and would be taken to minimise the risk.
“Rather, we should be asking whether the possible (undefined) risks arising from the procedure are worth taking given the reasonable certainty that a child would be born with a debilitating illness in the absence of their use.”
The UK is now set to be the first country to introduce the ground-breaking procedure, which was developed by experts in Newcastle.
A total of 383 MPs were in favour of the technique, which stops genetic diseases being passed from mother to child, while 128 voted against the move.
Ministers said the move was a ‘light at the end of a dark tunnel’ for many families in the country who have experienced the devastating effects of genetic disease.
However Reverend Coyne says a ‘conscientious’ profession is needed for those making ‘start-of-life-decisions’.
He told MM: “A conscientious, patient and attentive profession is needed, as well as accurate and comprehensive information for those making start-of-life decisions.
“An active medical community must not inadvertently contribute to a prejudice of what human life should be. It must be coupled with a compassionate society, providing support and care for all people, whether born with a high-risk of illness or not.
“I would hope that parents may love their children no matter what genetics or life provides. The spark of life is sacred and the world we create must support this life for all people, whether born from three parents or two.”
Image courtesy of Wellcome Images, with thanks.