Alarm over genetic control of embryos

Letter published in The Times 20 March 2013

Sir, We are writing in regard to the HFEA’s recent consultation on what it calls “mitochondrial replacement”, about which we have a number of serious ethical concerns. 

In the procedures being proposed, the chromosomes of unfertilised eggs or of newly conceived embryos are, in fact, replaced, and these are clearly examples, therefore, of germ-line genetic manipulation. The reconstructed egg or embryo will have an altered genetic composition that will be inheritable. 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. 

Chromosomal replacement would cross the Rubicon into germ-line genetic interventions. Moreover, we are concerned that these proposals for research and possible treatment which rely on egg donation will greatly increase the possibilities for the exploitation of egg donors. 

Because of the implications for all of humanity, intentional germ-line interventions are prohibited in every national jurisdiction that has considered the issue. They are also banned under a number of international legal instruments, such as the Council of Europe’s Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine which prohibits the genetic modification of spermatozoa or ova for procreation. 

We urge the British Government to consider its international responsibilities. This is because persons created through germ-line interventions, which may subsequently be revealed to be detrimental, will be able to travel and have their own children abroad. For the UK to isolate itself from its duties by allowing “mitochondrial replacement” to take place without consulting its international partners would create a very serious precedent. 

Prof David Albert Jones1 Anscombe Bioethics Centre, Oxford, UK. 

Prof Emmanuel Agius Dean, Faculty of Theology, University of Malta, Spain. 

Rev Nicanor Pier Giorgio Austriaco, O.P. Associate Professor of Biology, Providence College, RI, USA. 

Prof Stéphane Bauzon State University Roma Tor Vergata, Italy. 

Prof Francoise Baylis Novel Tech Ethics, Faculty of Medicine, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada. 

Prof E. Christian Brugger Saint John Vianney Theological Seminary, Denver, CO, USA. 

Prof Donna Dickenson Professor Emeritus of Medical Ethics and Humanities, University of London, UK. 

Rev Prof Norman M Ford Catholic Theological College of the MCD University of Divinity, Brunswick, Australia. 

Prof Anne Barbeau Gardiner City University of New York, NY, USA. 

Prof Robert P. George Visiting Professor of Law, Harvard University and McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, Princeton University, NJ, USA. 

Prof Jozef Glasa Institute of Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology and Institute of Health Care Ethics, Slovak Medical University in Bratislava, Slovak Republic. 

Prof Geoffrey Hunt Centre For Bioethics and Emerging Technologies, St. Mary’s University College, London, UK. 

Prof Christian Illies Chair of Philosophy, Bamberg University, Germany. 

Dr June Jones Senior Lecturer in Biomedical Ethics, University of Birmingham, UK. 

Prof John F. Kilner Franklin Forman Chair of Ethics, Professor of Bioethics and Contemporary Culture, Director of Bioethics Degree Programs, Trinity International University, Deerfield, IL, USA. 

Mr John Kleinsman Director, The Nathaniel Centre/The New Zealand Catholic Bioethics Centre, Wellington, New Zealand. 

Prof Regine Kollek Professor of Health Technology Assessment, Research Centre for Biotechnology, Society and the Environment, University of Hamburg, Germany. 

Rev Joseph W. Koterski Department of Philosophy, Fordham University, Bronx, NY, USA. 

Prof Mette Lebech Department of Philosophy, National University of Ireland, Maynooth. 

Prof Abby Lippman McGill University, Montreal, Canada. 

Prof Natalia López-Moratalla Professor of Biochemistry, University of Navarra, Pamplona, Spain. 

Dr Calum MacKellar Director, Scottish Council on Human Bioethics, Edinburgh, UK. 

Prof Nur Masalha St. Mary’s University College, London, UK. 

Dr Pia Matthews Lecturer in Healthcare Ethics, St. Mary’s University College, London, UK. 

Rev Kevin McGovern Director, Caroline Chisholm Centre for Health Ethics, East Melbourne, Australia. 

Dr John McLean 

Dr Emilio Mordini Centre for Science, Society and Citizenship, Rome, Italy. 

Prof Anselm Winfried Mueller Professor of Ethics at Keimyung University, Daegu, South Korea. 

Prof Dónal O’Mathna Senior Lecturer in Ethics, Decision Making & Evidence, School of Nursing and Human Sciences, Dublin City University, Ireland. 

Prof Craig Payne Professor of Humanities, Indian Hills College, Iowa, USA. 

Prof Hilary Rose Professor Emeritus of Physik, Gresham College, London, UK. 

PD Dr. phil. habil. Ingrid Schneider Centre for Biotechnology, Society and the Environment, Research Group Medicine, University of Hamburg, Germany. 

Dr Joseph Shaw Fellow, St. Benet’s Hall, Department of Philosophy, Oxford University, UK. 

Dr Jiri Simek Chair for Ethics and Philosophy in Helping Professions University of South Bohemia in Ceske Budejovice Faculty for Health and Social Studies, Czech Republic. 

Dr Robert Song Senior Lecturer in Christian Ethics, Department of Theology and Religion, Durham University, UK. 

Dr Trevor G. Stammers Programme Director in Bioethics and Medical Law, St. Mary’s University College, London, UK. 

Dr Agneta Mauléon Sutton Visiting Lecturer, Heythrop College, University of London, UK. 

Prof Rodney Taylor Fellow, Faculty of the History and Philosophy of Medicine, Worshipful Society of Apothecaries, Middlesex, UK. 

Prof Nicholas Tonti-Filippini Associate Dean and Head of Bioethics, John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family, Lateran University, Rome, Italy. 

Dr Verena Tschudin Visiting Senior Fellow, University of Surrey, UK. 

Prof Günter Virt University of Vienna, Austria. 

Dr Helen Watt Anscombe Bioethics Centre, Oxford, UK. 


1 All signatories of this letter do so as individuals and their views should not be assumed to be those of any institution or professional body to which they are affiliated. This proviso also holds of the Anscombe Bioethics Centre through whose office the letter has been co-ordinated.