LONDON, March 27, 2013 ( – A technique to implant donor DNA from a third party into in vitro embryos has been approved by the British Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). The technique is a form of “germline” alteration that involves modification of the person’s mitochondrial DNA (MDNA) to create genetic changes that will be carried on throughout subsequent generations.

The recommendation to allow the technique follows a public consultation ordered by the government in which the HFEA said they found “broad support”. The report said that the potential benefits outweighed the risks and that there is no evidence that the procedure is unsafe.

The HFEA report said that it should only be used to avoid “serious diseases” and that clinics offering the technique must be licensed. It also recommended that the children created using this genetic alteration technique be monitored. 

The HFEA has already granted individual researchers licenses to conduct human cloning experiments that would create embryos from three parents. In 2005, the body allowed an experiment in which embryos were created from the combined ova of two women with the sperm from a single father, also in an attempt to treat mitochondrial genetic diseases. 

The report has been passed on to ministers who will consider whether to bring forward legislation.

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The HFEA is known to be among the most permissive national regulatory bodies in the world, having been the first to approve human/animal hybrid cloning experiments, eugenic screening procedures, sex selection and the creation of designer “saviour sibling” embryos to be used as tissue sources for gene therapy for existing children. Under existing HFEA licenses, embryos in Britain can be “screened” for cosmetic traits such as eye colour. 

In a letter to the Times a group of ethicists raised concerns about the proposal to allow the technique, and over the legal implications for future proposals. “We believe the benefits to a small number of parents are heavily outweighed by the risks to the child and to society,” they wrote.

“This would be the first instance of regulatory approval for modification of the human germ line. There is a long-standing international consensus that we should not cross this ethical line, since it is likely to lead to a future of genetically modified 'designer' babies.” 

In a separate letter, to the Guardian newspaper, 13 physicians warned that such rules “risk dehumanising and commodifying relationships between children and their parents.”

“It would be the first time such intentional genetic modifications of children and their descendants were expressly permitted and would open the door to further genetic alterations of human beings with unforeseeable consequences.” 

Andrea Williams, CEO of the legal campaign group Christian Concern, said, “The possibility of having children with same-sex biological parents carries serious ethical implications and emotional risks for children which have not been adequately considered by the HFEA.

“These proposals ultimately encourage a eugenic attitude and pave the way for the genetic modification of children, with all its resultant consequences. Any alterations to the human genome will be permanent, and unexpected genetics problems will be passed down to future generations.”