Life-saving embryo law changes in balance

A push to allow three people to create a human embryo capable of preventing multi-generational diseases hangs in the balance.

A push to allow the creation of human embryos by more than two people will likely come down to a conscience vote in federal parliament.

A Senate committee chaired by Tasmanian Liberal Wendy Askew has handed down its review into proposed mitochondrial donation laws.

The reform bill seeks to allow for the staged introduction of mitochondrial donation techniques in Australia.

Mitochondrial diseases can affect brain cells, nerves, muscles, kidneys, heart, liver, eyes, ears or the pancreas.

Mitochondrial donation, the creation of human embryos by fertilisation with genetic material from more than two people, is prohibited in Australia.

Mitochondrial DNA are inherited only from the biological mother to child and the changes seek to reduce the risk of transmitting mutations through a third party.

Several mitochondrial donation techniques involve the creation of an embryo containing nuclear DNA from a woman (the mother), a man (the father), and mitochondrial DNA from a donor egg.

The bill presented a two-staged approach to allow for research and training, as well as further evidence to be collected, in relation to the safety and efficacy of mitochondrial donation.

There were five mitochondrial donation techniques: maternal spindle transfer, pronuclear transfer, germinal vesicle transfer, first polar body transfer and second polar body transfer.

However, only maternal spindle transfer and pronuclear transfer would be permitted under a clinical trial licence, the review stated.

Several stakeholders made submissions on the bill including the Australian Christian Lobby, which opposed pronuclear transfer.

“Pronuclear transfer and similar techniques lead to higher rates of embryo wastage and should not be pursued at the outset when alternatives exist,” they wrote.

“Maternal spindle transfer should be the focus of research.”

The Senate committee acknowledged the devastating impact of mitochondrial disease on individuals and families and was deeply moved by evidence from those who suffer from mitochondrial disease.

The proposed introduction also engages difficult ethical, social and scientific issues and under “appropriate circumstances” a child may have the right to know their donor before they reach 18, the Senate committee concluded.

They said more consideration needed to be undertaken “in relation to sex selection, whether the provisions of the bill that would enable a woman the option of selecting the sex of embryos is necessary and appropriate”.

“The committee makes no recommendations as this is a conscience matter,” they stated.


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