Bioethics expert: GM babies are a ‘monstrous mistake’

Wed, 18 Feb 2015

Controversial techniques to create three and four-parent babies could be a “monstrous mistake”, a bioethics expert has warned.

Dr Trevor Stammers, Programme Director in Bioethics and Medical Law at St Mary’s University in London, said the procedures are “nothing more than an uncertain experiment”.

Earlier this month, Westminster MPs voted in favour of regulations allowing two techniques – Maternal Spindle Transfer and Pro-Nuclear Transfer – which are also known as mitochondrial replacement.

‘Serious doubts’

Writing for his University’s blog, Dr Stammers said those raising “serious doubts” about the safety of the procedures “far outweigh those in support of proceeding in our present state of knowledge”.

He highlighted the “widespread concern” among scientists within the UK and across the world about the current understanding of the interactions between mitochondrial and nuclear DNA.

“Now we have facile analogies of these new mitochondrial techniques being ‘like a change of batteries’”, Stammers commented.

No progress

“However a change of software in a computer may be a more accurate picture”, he added.

In 2008, controversial legislation allowing the creation of animal-human hybrids was “pushed through Parliament”, but since then “little or no progress” has been made and attention is now on adult stem cells, Stammers said.

He concluded: “We are galloping into genetic engineering of humans which will enter into the germline for the very first time.

‘Genetic engineering’

“The fact that many of its advocates are denying that it is genetic engineering at all and likening it to an ‘organ transplant’, is deeply disturbing.

“If the truth is not being told about what is being proposed, what trust can we have in their reassurance about the outcome?”

If approved by the House of Lords, the UK will be the only country in the world to have legalised three and four-parent babies.

Explicitly banned

Last week, religious liberty organisation Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) issued a legal opinion to the European Parliament warning that the techniques could be in breach of EU law.

ADF lawyers argued that the procedures involve altering the human germ line, which is explicitly banned in an EU directive.