Melanie McDonagh Melanie McDonagh

The three parent technique is genetic modification. Will parliament confront this?

If I were choosing a third parent for a baby, you know, I’d be inclined to choose one of the Williams sisters — the top-notch tennis players. If you want to create a baby with really classy metabolism — and metabolic function is just what the third parent provides — you may as well make it good. But what you can’t do, in creating a baby that’s able to process energy efficiently, is pretend that this is anything other than genetic modification.

Yet the Department of Health, in effectively approving the three parent baby technique (actually, it’s always going to be two mothers plus one father), has redefined its categories in its proposals to allow mitochondrial DNA transfer. The proposals were published this week. If parliament approves the measure — and it’s unlikely that it won’t, given the inability of British parliamentarians to engage coherently with questions of moral philosophy — then it would make Britain the first country to allow three parent babies.

Characteristically, the BBC, in its interesting Radio 4 PM programme yesterday, engaged with the human aspect rather than the moral issues. It ran an interview with Liz Curtis, whose daughter Lily was a victim of mitochondrial disease, and very moving it was. Mrs Curtis is fully entitled to be an advocate for a change in the law but her arguments, perhaps inevitably, went almost entirely unchallenged. She observed that the technique was a bit like taking the yolk from an egg and just transferring it to another egg, and maintained that the technique didn’t involve any of the DNA that makes us what we are. It hardly merited the term ‘third parent’, she said.

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