A Peer who has worked with families of severely disabled children, and has a disabled daughter herself, raised serious concerns about the effects on children who could be born through controversial GM baby techniques.
During a House of Lords debate on the procedures to create three and four-parent babies, Baroness Hollins said that “our first responsibility must be to the children who may be created through these proposed interventions: the most important moral imperative must be to do no harm”.
She joined several other Peers in speaking out against regulations allowing the techniques, which were backed by 280 votes to 48.
The stated aim of the procedures is to create children free from mitochondrial disease, but they will not help children or mothers currently affected by the condition.
Baroness Hollins continued, “we are talking about children—children who will, we hope, grow up to be healthy human beings, and who will themselves be able to have healthy children. But what if they do not?”
There is a “real possibility”, she said, that children born through the techniques could have mutant mitochondrial DNA.
She referred to the fertility watchdog’s expert panel, which noted that females born as a result of the procedures could still put future generations at risk of mitochondrial disease.
She argued, “A new technology of such potential importance must take as long as is needed to be as sure as possible of its safety. Being first is not always best”.
And she dismissed claims that the techniques involved are equivalent to changing a battery.
Baroness Hollins cited animal studies demonstrating that “there is a relationship between mitochondria and memory, temperament and behaviour.
“As a psychiatrist, I see temperament as a personal characteristic, and I think it was for that reason that the New Scientist withdrew its support for the techniques”, she added.
Lord Deben, who tried to block the regulations, highlighted an attempt to use one of the techniques in China, which resulted in an abortion, a stillbirth and a child who died immediately.
He said the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has not asked for the evidence from China to find out how and why it happened.
“It is not acceptable to tell the country that this is safe when we have not even asked for the evidence from the one occasion on which it has been used, and upon which three babies died”, he added.
Fellow Peers claimed that the evidence in China had been looked at and was irrelevant to the debate.
Lord Alton joined several MPs in criticising the short length of time given to debate the issue in the Commons.
“I contrast the 90 minutes given to the House of Commons to discuss this with the 90 hours that Parliament spent discussing fox hunting. I ask noble Lords to contrast those things.
“We are required to show due diligence and scrutiny, especially over controversial legislation”, he added.
The UK is the first country in the world to legalise three and four-parent babies, with the regulations coming into force in October.