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House of Lords set to vote on triple-DNA babies

Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies is in favour of allowing triple-DNA babies. Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA Archive

Peers will vote today on historic legislation which would see the UK become the first country in the world to allow creation of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) babies using DNA from three different people.

The chief medical officer for England Dame Sally Davies has urged the House of Lords to approve the amendment to the 2008 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act and permit the controversial procedures, aimed at preventing serious inherited mitochondrial diseases.

"I want them to consider in the Lords what this is. It's quite separate from the illegal act of changing DNA in the nucleus.

It would give these women their own children and these families hope, and I believe this is right.

We have a very strong regulatory system that would regulate first the service and secondly would review every individual case before they could happen.

– Dame Sally Davies

MPs, including all three main party leaders, voted earlier this month in the Commons to legalise the mitochondrial donation technique, which critics say will lead to "three-parent babies".

Opponents, including church leaders and pro-life groups, have warned that the change has been brought about too hastily and marked the start of a "slippery slope" towards designer babies and eugenics.


Fertility clinics need fewer 'grade C mistakes'

Too many fertility clinics are making mistakes during IVF treatment such as breaches of confidentiality or one of many eggs being rendered unusable, the head of the industry watchdog has said.

HFEA chairwoman Sally Cheshire explained:

What's most important is learning the lessons from errors made to minimise the chance of their happening again - this is not about naming and shaming.

However, there remain too many grade C mistakes, such as breaches of confidentiality. As patients have often told us, these mistakes may be less serious at first glance but they can still be very upsetting.

Clinics can and should be eradicating these sorts of avoidable errors, which will go a long way towards reducing patient distress and improving the overall experience of IVF treatment

– Sally Cheshire

'Grade A mistakes made' during IVF treatment

There were three "grade A" or major mistakes made by fertility clinics over a two year period, the industry regulator said.

HFEA discovered over a two year period starting in 2010 fertility specialists:

  • Gave one family the wrong sperm.
  • Another incident involved dishes with the embryos of 11 patients becoming contaminated with "cellular debris that may have contained sperm".
  • The final grade A error occurred when a member of staff destroyed frozen sperm from storage while it was still within its consent period.

One in 100 women 'suffer adverse incident' during IVF

One in every 100 women undergoing a cycle of IVF treatment suffer an "adverse incident", according to fresh data.

Experts said the number of grade C mistakes is still "too high". Credit: PA

Approximately 500 to 600 mistakes are made in every 60,000 cycles of IVF, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) found.

HFRA, which licenses the IVF industry found there had been 714 grade B incidents, 815 grade C errors and three grade A mistakes - the most serious error - during this time frame.

One of the most serious mistakes reported was a family receiving the wrong sperm.

The couple were supposed to be given donor sperm from a specific donor - so their child would have the same genes as their sibling - but they were given the sperm of a different donor.

IVF couple: 'We considered moving house'

A couple who used IVF to conceive said they considered moving house to better their access to fertility drugs and expressed concern over how the IVF postcode lottery will affect their future.

Claire and Phillip Bond, from Bolton, were helped by their families to fund their second round of IVF after the fertility drugs they had used on the NHS failed.

Phillip explained: "It's a bit sad to think now that we can live on one side of the street, have everything that a child could possibly want and on the other side is an identical family like ours and we get one, they get three."


IVF postcode lottery 'goes against' NHS principles

Doctors denying IVF in some parts of the country are "going against" the core principles of the NHS, one doctor has said.

Professor Gillian Leng, deputy chief executive at Nice

Infertility is a recognised medical condition that can affect people of any age and has a potentially devastating effect on people's lives.

It can cause significant distress, depression and can possibly lead to the breakdown of relationships.

Our updated guidance which published last year provides clear recommendations on the most clinically and cost effective way to treat people with fertility problems. Unfortunately, we know that not all areas are following our guidance to the letter.

This creates variations in treatment within the NHS, which...goes against the fundamental aims of the NHS.

– Professor Gillian Leng

Nice draft recommendations on IVF and fertility

  • Couples should be referred to a fertility specialist after their first full year of unsuccessful attempts to get pregnant.
  • They should be referred sooner if they know of a clinical cause behind their infertility.
  • Women under 40 who have been trying to conceive are offered three full cycles of in vitro fertilisation (IVF).
  • Patients aged 40 to 42 are offered one cycle.
  • The quality standards also say that people who are of a reproductive age who are preparing to have treatment for cancer should be offered to have their eggs or sperm frozen and preserved.

NHS watchdog: 'End IVF postcode lottery'

The IVF postcode lottery on the NHS needs to end if couples struggling to conceive are to have fair access to fertility drugs, the health watchdog has said.

A recent study found 72% of the British public did not agree with menopausal women having IVF. Credit: PA

Treatments available to couples trying to get pregnant were set out by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) last year.

However, it has emerged many of the treatments are rationed or just not available from some health bodies, leaving some couples to pay thousands of pounds as they try to have a baby.

Nice recommended infertile couples where the woman is under the age of 40 are offered three full cycles of IVF treatment, but figures have shown health bodies are only offering one or none at all.

IVF pioneer: Fertility treatments could 'threaten humanity'

IVF pioneer Lord Winston has warned that a growing market for fertility treatments could "threaten our humanity" if the rich were able to pay for so-called 'designer babies'.

The fertility expert who developed key advancements in IVF treatment told academics at a conference "we have been carried away" by breakthroughs in reproduction.

The Daily Mail reported him as saying that enthusiasm to develop fertility techniques and desperate patients has become a "toxic mix".

Lord Robert Winston spoke of rich people 'designing babies' during a conference in Kent. Credit: Vladislav Galgonek/Czech News Agency/PA

During his speech at the University of Kent he said humans may end up with a society where some people may actually have something "that might threaten our humanity".

But Dr Allan Pacey, chairman of the British Fertility Society, said parents are not interested in enhancing their babies' genes.

"Most infertile couples are desperate for a baby, rather than a specific type of baby, and I don't see that changing."

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