Bioethics News

Three-person babies IVF technique is ‘safe’

By Acacia Sheppard

Imagine having three parents, all genetically responsible for your existence. This phenomenon has been a reality in the UK since October 2015 and allows women with serious genetic disorders to have healthy babies. In a normal pregnancy, mitochondrial DNA is passed from mother to child –  it’s completely maternal. This puts women with mitochondrial genetic disorders at high risk of passing their disorder on to their child. Previously, there was an option for these women to carry a donated ovum via IVF. However, the child born would not genetically be the mother’s own.


Researchers Newcastle University have developed a technique known as pronuclear transfer that involves the extraction of nuclear genetic material from a recently fertilised embryo. The mother’s flawed mitochondria are left behind and the nuclear material is then introduced to the ovum of a second woman with normal mitochondria. This may not be 100% effective in preventing transmission, however the risk is far less than with a natural conception.


Naturally, the idea of a ‘three person baby’ has sparked widespread ethical debate. The most prominent criticism argues that this technique is just another fateful step down the slippery slope of so-called designer babies. However, there is no evidence to suggest that the baby, which shares less than 0.1% of its genes with a third person, would be adversely affected in any way. So, on the other hand, is it ethical to deny genetically challenged women the opportunity to become mothers on the grounds of a hypothetical future crises?

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.