(Photo: Intelligence Squared US)
The U.K. government has backed a controversial new in vitro fertilization technique which would make it the first country in the world that allows babies to be created from the DNA of three different people.
"This is excellent news for families with mitochondrial disease," said Professor Doug Turnbull, director of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Mitochondrial Research at Newcastle University, according to BBC News.
"This will give women who carry these diseased genes more reproductive choice and the opportunity to have children free of mitochondrial disease. I am very grateful to all those who have supported this work."
Critics have warned that such a procedure would be unethical and lead down a "slippery slope," allowing for more genetic modification of human life.
"These techniques are unnecessary and unsafe and were in fact rejected by the majority of consultation responses," said Dr. David King, director of Human Genetics Alert.
"It is a disaster that the decision to cross the line that will eventually lead to a eugenic designer baby market should be taken on the basis of an utterly biased and inadequate consultation."
The new IVF technique is being designed to help couples whose children are born with genetic problems. BBC shared the story of Sharon Bernardi, who lost all seven of her children with her husband due to a rare genetic disease. Hopes are that new research would allow the defective mitochondria to be replaced by DNA from another woman, meaning a child would have traces of genetic material from three different people.
The Foundation for Mitochondrial Medicine estimated that one in every 2,500-3,000 people are affected by mitochondrial disease, which can lead to muscle weakness, blindness, heart failure and death.
Regulations drafted by the U.K.'s National Health Services are expected to be voted on by Parliament in 2014.
Religious opinions on IVF vary, but the Roman Catholic Church has spoken out against all forms of artificial contraception and artificial insemination.
Following a 2012 case where an Indiana school teacher sued a Roman Catholic school for firing her for using IVF to try to get pregnant, the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend issued a statement on the issue:
"The Catholic Church has a deep pastoral concern for husbands and wives struggling with infertility. The Church promotes treatment of infertility through means that respect the right to life, the unity of marriage, and procreation brought about as the fruit of the conjugal act," the diocese stated.
"There are other infertility treatments, such as in vitro fertilization, which are not morally licit according to Catholic teaching. The Church teaches that every individual embryo has the right to life."