Saturday, January 16News For London

Britain’s first three-person DNA raises religious and ethical concerns


Future Children made of 3 DNA's? Photo mulan: (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Could children in the future be made  of 3 DNA’s? Photo mulan: (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Doctors await a consent from the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA) to produce Britain’s first baby with a three-person DNA.

The treatment is known as mitochondrial replacement therapy (MRT). It is aimed for the women who have the risk of passing on fatal genetic disorders to their children. Although this treatment may seem to be the key to for producing healthy babies, not people of all faith a question remains whether people of all faiths are willing to participate in this treatment.

Jahangeer Khan, is an Islamic scholar from the Ahmadiyya Muslim community says “Actually only two parent children can be ever allowed in Islam, for inheritance reasons. Not to speak of potential health risks which haven’t yet been assessed”. He explains that “using genetic material from three parents could present untold health risks-as I said these have not yet been assessed properly over a human life span.”

Khan describes this issue to be similar to that of having surrogate mother, he says: “Moreover, there is the problem of emotional attachment. As in the case of surrogate pregnancies, each woman involved can become emotionally attached to the child. Who will have the right to have custody, and will that right be a moral one?”

The treatment aims to resolve this issue by changing the mother’s faulty mitochondria (that functions to give energy inside the cells) with those from a healthy donor. A baby would still be the same and healthy with the usual pairs of 23 chromosomes. The only alternation would be having a mitochondria from the healthy donor.

A mother’s mitochondria are passed on to her child and if the mitochondria are faulty the child can suffer of progressive diseases. They affect the most energy-demanding tissues of the body which includes the heart, brain as well liver and muscles. Doctors in Newcastle are prepared to offer this treatment to women who are in danger of passing on fatal genetic disorders to their children.

Where has this treatment been carried out?

Shoukhrat Mitalipov at the Oregon Health & Science University had used this treatment to produce healthy embryos from the eggs of women who have rare mitochondrial conditions such as Leigh and Melas syndrome. A new report was published by Nature the journal of science. Although the experiments were a success, there were about 15% of cases were the mother’s faulty mitochondria went back in some of her embryo’s cells. The reason for this to occur is still undecided. Although it is assumed that some mitochondria reproduce faster than others, letting them to dominate the healthy donor’s mitochondria.

Mitalipov states that “the procedure removes 99% of the mutant mitochondria, so only about 1% remains. But that 1% may sometimes come back like a cancer,”,” The danger is that in some cases, the mutant mitochondria will come back and the children may still have the disease that was originally removed from the embryo.”


Can we soon expect children with 3-persons-DNA? Photo Andy Leppard (CC BY 2.0)
How will the three-person DNA look like? Photo Andy Leppard (CC BY 2.0)

Muslim women are having difficulties with this treatment. Michelle Malik, 28, has a two-year-old son. In her apartment, the living room is found to be full with toys and toddler books, with which her son is very happily engaged with.

The mother of the two-year-old listens about this treatment very thoughtfully, after a while she says “It sounds attractive that more babies can be born healthy without any genetic disorder” however she adds “As a Muslim, how can we play God as these babies born with genetic disorder are God’s creation. Just as abortion is not allowed in Islam. How can we question God and try to defy him in altering the gene a mother is carrying?” She concludes that “This sounds attractive but if you look into it deeply it can have its doubts”.

Fateha Momin, 27, has a one and a half  year old son. We also meet her at her apartment and sit at the kitchen table share the idea of having a three-person-DNA child. Whilst her son sits in her lap and gazes curiously at us. She disagrees not only because of the Islamic point of view but also because there is not any guarantee if this process will actually be successful. She says: “If they are going to correct something they might be defecting other things”.

Although this treatment is meant to prevent genetic disorder, Muslims struggle to accept this treatment.  This is even the case  when they are expecting a child. Mufleha Jafar, 27, is 20 weeks pregnant and is expecting her first child.  Like the Islamic Scholar Jahangeer Khan, she says: “I think the idea of reducing the chances of diseases is good and positive. However, from the Islamic point of view the concept of surrogate parent is forbidden. Therefore, I cannot go with the concept of transferring the mitochondria from a third person to my child. If the donation is involved in the birth of my child, then no”.

Doctor Muti Goloba from St. Georges Hospital  says, there are several ethical challenges to consider in this area of research, as well as certain complications of this treatment that require further investigation. “As a doctor, I still have my personal reservations with regards to this type of treatment as they baby would essentially have three parents, one of them presumably unknown healthy donor of the egg.” She is concerned about the total level of research that has been done to evaluate how these babies develop over a long period of time.”

When questioned about the ethical issues and possible solutions she explains: “There are certainly religious beliefs that are in contradiction with this treatment. Although IVF is an option, it is also known that IVF is not accepted by all religions.  For these families, adoption may be something to consider.” In relation to success doctor Goloba feels it is too early to say whether this treatment will be successful. “If it does, it will be used by the families affected by mitochondrial disease.  I do not think that it will be commonly used as mitochondrial disease remain relatively rare. But these diseases are so serious that the families will almost certainly consider this treatment option”.