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Thanks to Britain, You Can Now Have a 'Three-Parent' Baby

Britain brought us Shakespeare, Harry Potter and bacon sandwiches. But now, thanks to a recent vote by MPs, three-parent babies could be born in Britain...

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|Feb 4|magazine7 min read

Britain brought us Shakespeare, Harry Potter and bacon sandwiches. But now, thanks to a recent vote by MPs, three-parent babies could be born in Britain as early as next year.

Britain voted on Tuesday, Feb. 3 to become the first country to allow a “three-parent” in vitro fertilisation (IVF) technique which doctors say will prevent some inherited incurable disease but which critics see as a step towards creating designer babies.

The treatment is known as "three-parent" IVF because the babies, born from genetically modified embryos, would have DNA from a mother, a father and from a female donor.

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It is designed to help families with mitochondrial diseases, incurable conditions passed down the maternal line that affect around one in 6,500 children worldwide.

After an emotionally charged 90-minute debate that some lawmakers criticised as being too short for such a serious matter, parliament voted 382 to 128 in favour of the technique, called mitochondrial donation.

The vote paves the way for a medical world first for Britain -- which along with the United States has been at the forefront of scientific research on the treatments -- but one that is fiercely disputed by some religious groups and other critics.

The process involves intervening in the fertilisation process to remove mitochondria, which act as tiny energy-generating batteries inside cells, and which, if faulty, can cause inherited conditions such as fatal heart problems, liver failure, brain disorders, blindness and muscular dystrophy.

Mitochondrial DNA is separate from DNA found in the cell nucleus and does not affect human characteristics such as hair or eye colour, appearance or personality traits.

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"I wouldn't stand here and defend the concept of designer babies -- choosing the colour of the eyes and all the rest of it. This is about purely dealing with those terrible, terrible illnesses," opposition Labour lawmaker Andrew Miller, chair of parliament's science and technology committee, told the debate.

International charities, advocacy groups and scientists had urged Britain to pass laws to allow the treatment, saying it brought a "first glimmer of hope" for some families of having a baby who could live without suffering.

"We have finally reached a milestone in giving women an invaluable choice, the choice to become a mother without fear of passing on a lifetime under the shadow of mitochondrial disease to their child," Robert Meadowcroft, chief executive of the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign, said following the vote.

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