It is reported that the UK’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) issued guidelines last week to govern the practice of mitochondrial transfer, which the UK government approved in February. In this case, the term “mitochondrial transfer” refers to any of several possible techniques that could be used to allow women with certain rare but debilitating diseases of the mitochondria—the “energy factories” of the cell—to have unaffected children.
I and other contributors to this blog have posted several times on this topic over the last two years. Among these: I linked to several resources on February 27 of this year, and had proposed a number of ethical issues posed by the practice on May 29 of last year, among other postings.
I have not been able to locate the draft guidelines on the Web, but an approving editorial in Nature comments that they are due to take effect next month. The editorial says that the UK will limit the practice solely for the purpose of avoiding serious disease, at licensed centers that will be required to get separate approval on a case-by-case basis, with monitoring (with parental consent) of the health of any children born as a result. This is important because mitochondrial transfer or donation has been suggested as a treatment for infertility, not just to avoid rare mitochondrial disease. It is estimated that 150 people in the UK and, if eventually FDA-approved in the US, 800 people here would be eligible annually.
If the approach is ethical, these guidelines, as stated, seem wise.
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.