Internationally, members of the European parliament have claimed that Britain was in breach of EU law and that they had ‘violated human dignity’ by allowing such a bill to be passed. From a personal perspective, I have no idea what this woolly sentiment means. I would be interested to learn, given the ability to eliminate mitochondrial diseases, what course of action they might propose in its place. To simply discount it out of hand is surely abhorrent to those suffering such afflictions. This sort of moral quandary was dismissed by Chief Medical officer Sally Davies who argued that changing mitochondria was no different from swapping a faulty car battery. And I have to agree that this makes some sense. If we remove the religious or spiritual dimension from the equation we might agree that we are biological machines. Why is it acceptable to battle the effects of faulty mitochondria after the fact but place sanctions on the ability to pre-empt its occurrence in the first instance? Why is it acceptable, for example, to swap out a heart or a lung but make mitochondrial DNA inviolable? I should point out that mitochondrial DNA has no bearing on what an individual will become. It does not affect any physical characteristics or character traits. Given this I’m struggling to understand this seemingly arbitrary line in the sand. I am in agreement with Ms Davies who argues that the law would give families hope. She also states that in application ‘a very strong regulatory system would regulate first the service and secondly would review every individual case before they could happen.’
So how does it work?
There are two principal procedures. The first involves taking a healthy nucleus (surrounded by faulty mitochondrial DNA) from one egg and transferring it to a donor egg with healthy mitochondrial DNA. This process takes place prior to fertilisation and the resulting embryo has 23 pairs of chromosomes which contains the mother and father’s DNA. Only the Mitochondrial DNA is affected (about 0.2% of the total).