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Parliament to Debate Regulations for 3 Parent IVF Babies

Controversial regulations that would bring the prospect of creating babies using the DNA from three people a step closer, are due to be debated and voted on in the Commons in the next few weeks.

The technique known as Mitochondrial Donation or Mitochondrial Replacement Therapy combines the genetic material from a mother and father with the egg minus the nucleus of another woman to produce healthy IVF embryos free from serious mitochondrial diseases.

Mitochondrial disease, which currently affects about one in every 6,500 children, is a chronic, genetic disorder that occurs when the mitochondria, the so called power packs of every cell in our bodies, inside a cell fails to produce enough energy for that cell to function properly.

The disease causes a range of conditions that affect muscles, nerves and organs, and can lead to blindness, deafness, autism and learning difficulties.

Supporters of the technique argue that it will prevent women who are carrying mutations in their mitochondria from passing on inherited diseases to their children. Opponents argue that the technique is unsafe and crosses an ethical line that could lead towards the creation of "designer children".

Although no actual timetable for the parliamentary debate on the technique has been announced, the Department of Health has said it is likely to occur within the next few weeks and almost certainly before the election in May.

MPs will be asked to vote on whether the UK should become the first country in the world to legalise the technique. Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration state that it will take at least another two years to conduct safety studies before any clinical trials can take place, scientists in the UK have said they could carry out the procedure as early as this year if the legislation is passed.

When taking into account other more common forms of gamete donation and surrogacy, it is clear there are increasing ways in which a baby can quite easily be the "child" of three, four, or even five different people; situations that are provided for by scientific procedures, but not always in law.

Family Law has always been reactive to advances in IVF technology, often by amending much older legislation. Mitochondrial donation would mark another example. 

At present, it can require a creative approach to find a solution to new situations using outdated law, and Family Lawyers and judges alike have noted on the need for the law covering alternative family make-ups to be re-thought and restructured to better fit with scientific and social norms.

As such it is very much hoped that by raising the profile of complex IVF techniques through events such as the forthcoming Commons debate will help add weight to increasing calls for the law dealing with such situations to be reviewed and updated.

Cara Nuttall is a Senior Family Solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in Manchester.

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