Bioethics Blogs

A small but life affirming step

Tomorrow, the House of Commons will debate regulations that would make it possible for the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) to authorise, on a case by case basis, the use of promising techniques to overcome serious mitochondrial disease. The step that is proposed is measured and modest, but important. It is consistent with the recommendations made by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics in our report Novel techniques for the prevention of mitochondrial DNA disorders (2012).

We concluded that provided that the techniques were shown to be sufficiently safe and effective, and that families were appropriately informed and supported, it would be ethical for them to use them. The regulations are being proposed only after careful work reviewing safety and efficacy data. The team who would be permitted to use the techniques are working in close collaboration with the families. These pre-conditions have therefore been met.

Our report noted that the families affected by mitochondrial disorders are in a dark place. There are currently no cures and the inherited nature of the problems casts a long shadow through the generations.

An extended and transparent process
The potential of mitochondrial replacement has been publicly recognised since at least 2000, when the CMO’s Expert Group on Stem Cell Research reported. In 2008 Parliament provided the HFEA with the power to license research to develop the technique, bringing the opportunity to understand the prospects for a safe and effective clinical application. Research began in 2010 under the HFEA’s regulatory oversight. This included convening an expert panel to review safety issues, which has been updated periodically as new data has become available.

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.