House of Lords backs dangerous GM baby plans

Controversial techniques to create three and four-parent babies have been backed by Peers in the House of Lords.

Following yesterday’s debate, Peers voted 280 to 48 in favour of the regulations, which will now come into force in October.

Several Peers spoke out against the procedures – Maternal Spindle Transfer (MST) and Pro-Nuclear Transfer (PNT) – including former Labour Attorney General, Baroness Scotland of Asthal.

Safety doubts

She said: “Why the haste? Everyone agrees that we have to get this right”.

She added that if we are going to do “something which everyone agrees is novel, different and important internationally”, then we have to be “confident that we are on solid ground because if we are not, we give a disservice”.

Former cabinet minister John Gummer, now Lord Deben, attempted to block the regulations due to serious safety concerns.

Protect

He said, “we must protect three sets of people: the families – mothers and fathers – the children and the wider society”.

“We should be concerned with the children who would be born in these circumstances”.

He raised fears that the children born through these techniques could be sterile: “We have a huge responsibility to these mothers who cannot bear a well baby, but we also have a responsibility to the baby that they bear.

Unacceptable

“What a terrible comment it would be if those who longed to have a baby and were therefore able to have it gave birth to a child who could not have a baby. That would be unacceptable.”

Research into both techniques involves the destruction of embryos, and though the stated aim of the procedures is to create children free from mitochondrial disease, they will not help women and children who already have the condition.

Ahead of the vote, a group of Italian politicians challenged the Government’s stance on GM babies.

Unforeseen consequences

In a letter to The Times, the 55 Deputies pleaded with their British counterparts not to allow the techniques.

The letter argues that the creation of three-parent embryos could have “uncontrollable and unforeseeable consequences, affecting future generations, and modifying genetic heritage in an irreversible way”.

It continued, “we are profoundly alarmed and ask your parliamentarians to reflect again on the possible consequence of such an important decision, which does not concern just the citizens of your country, but the genetic patrimony of future generations”.

Not a treatment

Dr Calum MacKellar, of the Scottish Council on Human Bioethics, said the techniques are “not a treatment”.

He described them as, “a kind of genetic cleansing procedure in which persons with disability and sickness are seen as being unworthy of life”.

The UK will be the only country in the world to legalise MST and PNT.

Three parents

MST involves replacing the nucleus in a healthy donor egg with the nuclear DNA from the prospective mother – resulting in a child with DNA from three parents.

PNT creates a child from four different individuals (a chromosomal mother, a chromosomal father, an egg mother and a sperm father).

Last month, after a debate lasting just 90 minutes, MPs in the House of Commons voted 382 to 128 in favour of the regulations.