4 Feb 2015

Three-parent babies unlikely for NZ

6:09 pm on 4 February 2015

New Zealand is unlikely to copy British legislation allowing three-parent babies despite it already having similar legal framework surrounding fertility treatments.

no caption

Photo: 123RF

After years of debate and medical research, British MPs have voted to legalise a technique aimed at preventing serious inherited diseases being passed on from mother to child.

The method involves taking mitochondria - the genetic material around a cell's nucleus - from a healthy donor woman and mixing it with the DNA of two parents to stop defective mitchondria affecting an unborn child.

A University of Otago law professor, Mark Henaghan, said New Zealand has had legislation in place for more than ten years allowing people to select a healthy embryo to implant.

He said it helped reduce the chance of passing on illnesses such as Huntington's disease, and allowing the use of a third person's DNA would be consistent with current laws.

But the Advisory Committee on Assisted Reproductive Technology (ACART), which advises the Ministry of Health, said the ethical and long term clinical effects of the treatment would need to be monitored before New Zealand could consider adopting the legislation here.

Its chair Alison Douglass said ethical issues attached to Britain's legislation, such as anonymity of the donor, conflicted with New Zealand law and ACART would monitor results from overseas before recommending a law change here.

Professor of obstetrics and gynecology Wayne Gillett from the University of Otago said while mitochondrial diseases only affected a few people, the disorders were devastating such as muscle wasting diseases, blindness, and diabetes.

He said the treatment was a breakthrough and New Zealand had the expertise and facilities to offer it but shouldn't rush to adopt the legislation until it could review how it worked overseas.

Professor Gillett also said the type of tissue donated meant the donor cannot be termed a parent therefore concerns around the number of biological parents a child would have were unfounded.