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It is important to note that the use of these techniques will not be rushed into lightly if Parliament does pass them today, and specialist clinicians will then have to obtain a licence from the HFEA to use the techniques. We heard last night that this will only be in centres of excellence, and the HFEA will consider applications on a case-by-case basis.
We have heard concerns in previous debates that allowing mitochondrial donation is a dangerous road to start down, and that it could potentially lead to designer babies and parents being able to select the physical characteristics of their children. But we have also heard in the public debate that these fears do not take into account that these regulations are very specific and cover only mitochondrial DNA, not the nuclear DNA that determine our physical characteristics. The legislation only permits the use of these techniques in the clearly defined situation of incurable mitochondrial disorders.
The fact that these techniques apply only to the mitochondrial DNA and not to nuclear DNA should provide further reassurance to those Members concerned that this process would result in “three-parent babies.” As we have heard, mitochondrial DNA only controls mitochondrial function and energy production. Importantly, nuclear DNA, which makes us who we are and determines appearance and personality, will not be altered by the techniques that we are discussing today.
The regulations clarify that a mitochondrial donor is not to be treated as a parent, in contrast to the legal position for sperm and egg donors, who are treated as people who would, or might, be the legal parent of a child born from their donation.
There are questions around the safety of these techniques. As we have heard, this technique has received unprecedented scrutiny by the HFEA’s specially convened expert scientific review panel. However, it is possible that side effects could emerge over time and scientists have acknowledged that there would always have to be a “leap of faith” the first time the technique is used in humans.