Leading figures express support for mitochondrial donation
In a letter to The Times today, leading figures from science and academia express their support for the approval of a legal amendment to allow mitochondrial donation, a technique that could prevent babies being born with debilitating illnesses. Five Nobel laureates (Prof Sir John Sulston, Prof Sir John Gurdon, Prof Sir John Walker, Prof Sir Tim Hunt and Prof Sir Paul Nurse) are joined by former bishop of Oxford, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, previous chair of the HFEA (the body that licenses such techniques) Baroness Deech and eminent philosopher and ethicist Baroness Warnock, whose work in the late 1980s created the UK’s internationally-admired regulatory framework for embryology and fertility research and medicine. Wellcome Trust director Dr Jeremy Farrar is also a signatory on the letter, whose publication coincides with this morning’s announcement that this will be debated in the House of Commons on Tuesday 3rd February…
Having been waiting for a date for a parliamentary discussion and vote on this issue for some time, Jeremy Farrar commented: “Over the past seven years, Britain has been engaged in an exemplary process for evaluating scientific, ethical and public opinion about mitochondrial donation, which has revealed broad support on all three fronts. The Government is right to ask Parliament to support regulations that will allow the law to catch up with public and scientific opinion, and we urge MPs and peers to vote for them.
“Parents who know what it means to care for a sick and suffering child with mitochondrial disease are the people best placed to decide, with proper medical advice and safeguards, whether mitochondrial donation is right for them. It is time to allow them to make that choice.”
Sir, Mitochondrial diseases are devastating inherited conditions causing disability and death, which are passed from mothers to children. They are caused by faulty mitochondria — “batteries” that provide cells with energy — and cannot usually be prevented or cured.
Mitochondrial donation, sometimes known as “three-person IVF”, offers some affected families a chance of having a healthy child, but the law currently prevents clinical use. After seven years of consultation and inquiry that have revealed broad public, scientific and ethical approval, the government has proposed regulations that would allow these families to benefit.
We urge parliament to support these regulations in votes that are expected imminently. A vote in favour will not allow clinics to offer mitochondrial donation immediately: they will still need a licence from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, which will be granted only with scientific evidence that any risks in each particular case are low. Passing the regulations now will allow this licensing process to begin, so that families do not face further delay.
The question that parliamentarians must consider is not whether they would want to use this technology themselves, but whether there are good grounds to prevent affected families from doing so. We believe that those who know what it is like to care for, and sometimes to lose, an extremely sick child are the people best placed to decide whether this technology is right for them, with medical advice and within the strict regulatory framework proposed. They have been waiting for the science for long enough. They should not have to wait for the law to catch up.
Prof Sir John Sulston
Prof Sir John Savill
Prof Sir John Tooke
Dr Jeremy Farrar
Prof Sir John Walker
Ms Aisling Burnand
Ms Liz Curtis
Prof Sir Paul Nurse
The Rt Rev. the Lord Harries of Pentregarth
Prof Jonathan Montgomery
Prof Sir John Gurdon
Prof Sir Tim Hunt
Prof Julian Savulescu
Prof Sir Ian Wilmut
Lord Walton of Detchant