3-parent babies


  • The Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Mitochondrial Donation) Regulations were approved by both Houses of Parliament in February 2015.
  • The regulations, which allow the creation of three or four-parent children in cases involving mitochondrial disease, came into force in October 2015.
  • Mitochondria are very small entities found in every human cell. They are inherited from the mother’s egg, provide energy for the cell and contain mitochondrial DNA. The role of mitochondria is not fully understood, but when they malfunction they can, in rare cases, cause serious illness.1
  • The UK’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), and others who support the move, have claimed the procedures will help the very small number of mothers who risk passing on mitochondrial disease to any future children they may have.2
  • The two procedures involved are called ‘Maternal Spindle Transfer’ and ‘Pronuclear Transfer’. The necessary research involves destroying human embryos. Pronuclear Transfer actually destroys two embryos to create a third. It also generally requires the involvement of four parents (see our publication GM babies with 3 or 4 parents).
  • By approving the regulations, the UK has become the only country in the world to formally legalise the creation of genetically modified children.

Biblical arguments

The Bible clearly teaches the sanctity of human life (see Sanctity of Life).

Every human being is made in the image of God and life is sacred from conception (Genesis 1:27, 9:6; Psalm 51:5).

The Ten Commandments uphold the sanctity of life and show that humans have two parents, a father and a mother (Exodus 20:12-13). Yet by creating children with three (or four) parents the procedures fly in the face of the created order.

Christians will want to show love and compassion to parents who have medical disorders which can be passed on to their children. But Christians also need to be vigilant in identifying and challenging attitudes in society which undermine the sanctity of human life. Both are practical outworkings of the commandant in Mark 12:31 to love our neighbour. The many human embryos destroyed in research for these procedures are our neighbours.

Key points

  • There are very real safety fears – for the mothers and children involved, and for their descendants. No one can be sure the plans are safe.
  • The Department of Health claimed widespread public support for the measure. However, the Government’s own consultation in 2014 found that 62 per cent of those responding were opposed to the change.3 Over half of respondents to an earlier HFEA consultation were also against the idea.4
  • The HFEA’s expert panel of five scientists backed the plans, but in June 2014 even they said “there are still experiments that need to be completed before clinical treatment should be offered. The panel considers that some of these experiments are critical”. The panel recommended long-term follow-up monitoring of any genetically modified children who are born, but the Government rejected this, citing legal “difficulties”.5
  • The Government claimed the procedures do not amount to ‘genetic modification’ because most genes are not affected. But the plain truth is that the children will have modified genes.
  • While there are ongoing public safety concerns about GM food, it’s extraordinary that the Government has gone ahead with GM babies.
  • Both techniques involved – Maternal Spindle Transfer and Pronuclear Transfer – change the genetic heritage mothers pass on to their children. It is alarming that the procedures will impact future generations in ways that are completely unknown.
  • There are real ethical concerns that the procedure will “be used as a door-opening wedge towards full-out germline manipulation” and introduce ‘high-tech eugenics’.6
  1. 1’Three-parent baby U-turn?’ New Scientist, 20 September 2014, page 5 and ‘The micromanagers’, New Scientist, 20 September 2014, pages 43-45; Scolding, N, Standpoint, December 2013, page 41
  2. 2Only 1 child in 6,500 is affected by a serious mitochondrial disease which may lead to death in infancy. Mitochondrial donation – a quick summary, The Wellcome Trust, see http://www.wellcome.ac.uk/stellent/groups/corporatesite/@msh_publishing_group/documents/web_document/wtp058592.pdf
  3. 3Mitochondrial Donation: Government response to the consultation, Department of Health, July 2014, page 11
  4. 4Mitochondria replacement consultation: Advice to Government, Annex IV, Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, March 2013, page 76
  5. 5Third scientific review of the safety and efficacy of methods to avoid mitochondrial disease through assisted conception: 2014 update, HFEA, June 2014, page 4; Mitochondrial Donation: A consultation on draft regulations, Department of Health, February 2014, page 6 and para 2.36
  6. 6Darnovsky, M, ‘A slippery slope to human germline modification’, Nature, vol. 499, 11 July 2013, page 127