The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) of the United Kingdom on 16 March 2017 granted a license to the Newcastle University to create babies using the 3-parent technique. With this, the Newcastle University has become the first organisation to receive a license since the unveiling of the ‘3-parent baby policy’ by the HEFA in December 2016.
The 3-parent baby technique involves in vitro fertilization of both the mother’s egg and a donor’s egg with the father’s sperm. Before these two fertilised eggs begin dividing into an embryo, the unhealthy mother’s egg nucleus is replaced with the egg’s nucleus of a healthy donor. This gives the doctors with a fertilised egg with a healthy donor mitochondria and the mother’s DNA in the nucleus. This fertilised egg with the donor’s healthy mitochondria will be implanted in the mother’s uterus.
Mitochondria are structures in cells that generate vital energy and contain their own set of genes called mDNA. Mitochondrial diseases are passed through the mother to baby. These diseases cause symptoms ranging from poor vision to diabetes and muscle wasting. After years of research, the 3-parent baby technique proved to be the only viable option to treat patients with rare genetic mutations to have healthy babies.
The technique has attracted criticism due to the ethical dimensions involved in the process. The pro-life believers claim that the technique involves the destruction of life. They maintain that the technique is not foolproof as it is sure that majority of the fertilised eggs are unhealthy. Majority of the scientific community argue that the technique may open the doors for the creation of designer babies.
A designer baby is a genetically engineered baby with specially selected traits such as gender, appearance, intelligence, etc. Though the designer baby technology is aimed at developing a healthy human being, it is vulnerable to misuse with far-reaching social, economic and political consequences.