Three Parents to Make a Baby?
Family Law solicitor Simon Mortimer looks at the possibility of three people being involved in the production of a baby and the legal questions surrounding this.
The three parent baby sounds highly improbable but the idea has sparked many headlines and much controversy. As a result of ground breaking research at The Welcome Trust Centre in Newcastle University there is now a real possibility that three people might be involved to make a baby, but the idea of three parents would seem likely to raise some interesting legal questions, so why would anyone do it? The answer is in the cells – no, not the prison cells but the faulty human ones.
The mitochondria material which is found in most human cells produces energy to make the cells work so they are likened to batteries. Sometimes there can be genetic faults in the mitochondria and these mitochondrial diseases produce devastating inherited conditions which can lead to serious disability and death.
As a result of the research, two techniques have been developed which take the nucleus from the egg of a mother to be with faulty mitochondria and combine it with healthy mitochondria from the egg of another woman to produce a healthy egg, either before or after fertilisation by the mother’s partner or husband. The immediate advantage of the process is that the mother can carry the healthy egg to birth and produce a child free of mitochondrial diseases and defects and it will still be genetically connected to the mother as well as the father. Another advantage of the process is that it may mean that the child produced as a result is themselves free of mitochondrial disease thereby bringing an end to the inherited cycle of genetic defects caused by mitochondrial diseases.
As with so many headlines, the idea of the “Three Parent Baby” is really a misnomer. The change in the law which is proposed to allow this research to become a practical reality makes it clear that the woman who donates the healthy mitochondria will not become a parent in any sense to the child. Professor Robert Winston in fact described the process a being akin to a blood transfusion. So the healthy child born as a result will have natural, blood related parents and what seemed like it could be a legal minefield will actually not give rise to any such concerns.
Whilst at first sight the idea of the “Three Parent Baby” was starting to raise the spectre of increasing the number of parents involved in children’s cases by 50% the reality will clearly be very different.
About the author
Simon is a partner and leads the Family Law team at Burnetts.
Published: Thursday 5th February 2015
Categorised: Family Law