Bioethics Blogs

The ethics of three-person IVF

Three person IVF will prevent mitochondrial disease. Sukharevskyy Dmytro/Shutterstock

The UK parliament will soon consider making Britain the first country to allow three person IVF. The regulations are yet to be approved, but the government is currently backing moves to allow the creation of babies with DNA from three people in cases where the children are at risk of inheriting mitochondrial disease.

Objections have been raised, however, and it’s important to consider the ethical arguments for and against allowing this new procedure.

Mitochondrial disease

Mitochondria generate energy for our cells and have been compared to batteries or power stations. When people suffer from mitochondrial disease, their mitochondria don’t produce enough energy to make their cells work properly. The disease takes many forms but often affects important body parts such as the brain, liver or heart. Some mitochondrial disease is fatal and, at present, there’s no effective cure.

Mitochondrial replacement is proposed, not as a treatment for existing sufferers, but as a way of helping “at risk” parents avoid passing it on to their children. One technique (Maternal Spindle Transfer) involves removing damaged mitochondria from the mother’s egg and replacing them with healthy mitochondria from a donated egg.

Another (Pronuclear Transfer) involves removing damaged mitochondria from the parents’ embryo and replacing them with healthy mitochondria from a donated embryo, or from an embryo made using the father’s sperm and a donated egg. Any child created would be genetically linked, through mitochondrial DNA, to an egg donor, as well as to his or her main genetic parents; hence the expression “three-person IVF”.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.