crispr embryoTwo babies created using the ‘three-parent’ IVF method are due to be born in Ukraine in 2017, New Scientist reports. The technique is designed to eliminate hereditary disease, but in this case the treatment was used to overcome the couples’ fertility problems. Critics argue that mitochondrial donation is unproven as a fertility booster, and could put mothers and babies at risk. 

Last month, scientists in the US reported the successful birth of a boy conceived using mitochondrial donation. Currently the UK is the only country to have approved mitochondrial donation, specifically to treat hereditary conditions. The US team travelled to Mexico for the procedure where, according to team leader John Zhang, “there are no rules”. Both Mexico and the Ukraine have less fertility regulation than the UK. 

Speaking to the BBC, ethicist Marcy Darnovsky, from the US Center for Genetics and Society, described the development as a “race to the bottom”, arguing that doctors are “ignoring ongoing policy debates and conducting dangerous and socially fraught experiments on mothers and children. And they appear to be actively seeking a media splash on the way down.”

There is no way to stop IVF clinics from offering the procedure, said Dusko Ilic of King’s College London. The UK may have subjected mitochondrial donation to extensive legal scrutiny prior to approval, but the technique is legal by default in many countries. 

“The major worry is how technically skillful these clinics are, what quality control measures are in place and what information they provide to desperate patients seeking help. Are those patients aware of all risks involved?”

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