Intervention to prevent transmission of mitochondrial disorders should be allowed, subject to safeguards, report says

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: (Published 12 June 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e4089
  1. Nigel Hawkes
  1. 1London

Techniques that prevent the transmission of mitochondrial disorders are ethically acceptable, even though they involve permanent changes to DNA that would be transmitted down the generations, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics believes.

But the treatment would first have to be shown to be safe, carried out as part of a clinical trial; and parents considering it would have to be offered full information and support.

A new report by a working group chaired by the medical journalist and broadcaster Geoff Watts concluded that the balance of the argument lies on the side of permitting such treatments so long as the conditions are met.1

It acknowledged that it would be a germline therapy involving permanent changes to inheritable DNA and that hitherto such therapies have been deemed unacceptable. But special circumstances make mitochondrial DNA an exception, the report argues.

The DNA that controls mitochondria does not determine identity, appearance, or any personal traits and is located outside the …

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