Britain could become the first country in the world to allow IVF treatment to create babies using DNA from three people. The decision affects couples who risk passing on inherited diseases.
Should new regulations pass parliament, couples who risk passing on inherited diseases could also use DNA from a second donor mother. A national public consultation has showed that Britons broadly favor the idea.
"Mitochondrial disease, including heart disease, liver disease, loss of muscle coordination and other serious conditions like muscular dystrophy, can have a devastating impact on the people who inherit it," said Dr. Sally Davies, England's chief medical officer. "Scientists have developed groundbreaking new procedures which could stop these diseases being passed on, bringing hope to many families seeking to prevent their future children inheriting them," she added.
Should the procedure move to parliament for debate, lawmakers would get a free vote on the issue, meaning party whips wouldn't exert influence.
'It's only right'
Worldwide, about one in 6,500 babies is born with a mitochondrial disorder. About 12,000 people live with those in Britain - including heart and liver disease and respiratory problems.
"It's only right that we look to introduce this life-saving treatment as soon as we can," Davies said.
Critics fear, however, that the new technique could lead to designer babies and argue that concerned mothers ought to use donated eggs or considering adopting children should they worry abut passing on conditions.
Davies calls herself "very comfortable" with the decision: "I do think quite carefully about ethics," she said. "I always did as a clinician, and I still do, perhaps because my father was a theologian. We will save some five to 10 babies from being born with ghastly disease and early death without changing what they look like, or how they behave, and it will help mothers to have their own babies."
mkg/rg (Reuters, AFP, dpa)