I recognise that some constituents have concerns about the use of mitochondrial donation on religious or ethical grounds, and I respect those who take this view. However, I have to tell you that I did vote in favour of the regulations because I think we should allow this new medical technique to be used in patients to prevent transmission of the devastating inherited condition, mitochondrial disease, from mother to child. The regulations were passed in the House of Commons by a large majority.
As I am sure you will know, 1 in 200 babies in the UK are born with genetic defects that can cause mitochondrial disease and about 1 in 6,500 will go on to develop severe disease. The impact on a child can be devastating: seizures, strokes, blindness, deafness and heart and liver failure are all common. Many of those affected will not make it to adulthood. There is currently no treatment and no cure.
The techniques that these regulations would allow involve replacing the faulty mitochondria with healthy ones from a donor. This replacement is done during IVF and can happen either before or after the egg is fertilised. Concerns have been raised about the safety and ethics of the technique, particularly about the technique supposedly creating children with three parents, but as I understand it nuclear DNA is not altered by these techniques and so mitochondrial donation will not affect the child’s appearance, personality or any other features that make a person unique – it will instead allow the mitochondria to function normally.
The techniques for mitochondrial donation have undergone a thorough review process and are supported by both the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, and many clinicians and IVF experts including Professor Sir John Sulston, Baroness Warnock and Sir Paul Nurse. An Expert Scientific Review panel in April 2011, March 2013 and June 2014 have found no evidence to suggest that the techniques are unsafe for clinical use and concluded that both techniques have the potential to be used in patients with mitochondrial disease. The techniques are not risk free however, so safeguards have been built into the regulations and if they are passed, specialist clinicians will have to obtain a licence from the HFEA to use the techniques. This will only be granted once the HFEA is satisfied that any risk in their use is low.
I supported this change because I do not think that we should deny those families experiencing mitochondrial disease the chance to avoid passing it on to their children. The benefits of preventing its transmission and the likelihood that, without it, children will continue to be born who will die in infancy, in my view outweighs any risks.