25 February 2015, The Tablet

House of Lords approves three-parent embryos

The UK has become the world’s first country to legalise the creation of three-parent embryos, after the House of Lords voted down an attempt to delay the controversial legislation by a majority of 232.

The vote in the Upper House to amend the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act – to permit mitochondrial DNA from a second woman to be used during in-vitro fertilisation – follows MPs passing the amendment on 3 February with 382 in favour and 128 against.

The move, designed to enable women who are carriers of mitochondrial diseases to conceive without passing on the conditions, has been criticised by church figures, including Bishop John Sherrington of the bishops’ department for Christian Responsibility and Citizenship. Speaking after the Commons vote, he said the Church remained opposed on principle to these procedures where the destruction of human embryos is part of the process. The human embryo is a new human life with potential, he said, not "disposable material".

Peers last night rejected by 280 votes to 48 a proposal to block the Bill by the Catholic Conservative former Cabinet minister John Gummer, now Lord Deben, following several hours of debate. Lord Deben said he was not making an ethical argument but sought a delay to explore safety issues. “I am very concerned about this,” he told the Lords. “In the end, if it all goes wrong, it will be no use for us to say, ‘I took the opposite view’… So far, the Government have not convinced the public of the sense of this.”

Last month the Prime Minister, David Cameron, the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and the Opposition Leader Ed Miliband all used their free vote to support the passing of the Bill.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "Parliament's decision will bring hope to hundreds of families affected by mitochondrial disease. We are proud to be the first country to allow these revolutionary techniques. For the first time ever, women who carry severe mitochondrial disease will have the opportunity to have healthy babies without the fear of passing on devastating genetic disorders."

It is now expected that the first "three-parent baby" could be born as early as 2016.

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