Britain: A Leader in Reproductive Medicine

What comes to mind when one thinks of Britain? Perhaps visions of rain, a Union Jack flag, and a myriad of cultures…Yet did you know that annually, about 100 British children are born with a mitochondrial defect for which there is no cure? This often fatal defect leaves those children who do survive, with muscles and nerves that ┬ásimply put, lack the energy to function at their proper capacity.

While there is no cure for the defect itself, there is a way to help prevent it from occurring, and on February 3rd, 2015 the House of Commons put through a vote making Britain the first country in the world to allow what is known as “Mitochondrial Donation”, which is achieved through in-vitro fertilization. The process, seems simple enough and is completed by transplanting the nucleus from an egg cell with disfigured Mitochondria into another egg with functioning ones, where it gets complicated however, is that this second egg is provided by a donor, in other words a secondary “mother”, and tertiary “parent” for the child in question.

The genes from this tertiary parent will not, however have a significant impact on attributes such as the child’s hair type, personality or body type, as in comparison with Humans who carry roughly 22 000 genes, Mitochondria carry only 37. The primary long-term impact will be that all females born through this procedure will pass on the mitochondrial modifications to their children.

While most of the public majority are in favour of the procedure, once they have had a chance to find out exactly how it works, there has been some noise from religious groups who feel that this type of medicine is “Playing God”. This raises the question, are not all types of medical advancements toying with the “natural course” of life? If this procedure procedure can be defined as “Playing God”, then arguably, so can common procedures such as cesarean sections. At any given point in time, one method or another was considered “unnatural” in some manner, however we must ask ourselves putting all personal bias aside, are we ready as a people and a world to give these children a second chance at a healthy life, or in some cases, a chance at a life at all? What do you think the answer should be?

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