Sunderland mother’s anger as MPs speak against three-parent IVF treatment

editorial image
Share this article
Have your say

A SUNDERLAND mum who lost seven children to a rare genetic defect has criticised MPs standing in the way of a pioneering new treatment to help other parents.

Sharon Bernardi, 48, of Springwell, lost six children to mitochondrial disease within days of them being born. Son Edward died three years ago, aged 21.

Doctors have developed a new IVF technique which takes healthy mitochondria – an integral part of the body’s cells – from a donor and adds them to the mother’s fertilised egg, effectively creating an embryo with three genetic parents.

Critics have said the technique, which involves removal and replacement of mitochondria – often described as the cell’s factories – could lead to “designer babies” or amount to genetic engineering or eugenics.

On Monday night MPs debated a backbench motion calling on the Government to delay bringing forward regulations on the technique.

The motion – which was passed unopposed but has no binding effect – was moved by Tory MP Fiona Bruce, who said allowing mitochondrial replacement procedures to go ahead at present would be “tantamount to experimentation”.

“This is a case of genetic engineering,” she said.

“It is the alteration of a potential human being by the removal of certain genes and the replacement of others to create children. Surely in such a case we should be very, very careful?”

But Sharon Bernardi said the plans had been in the pipeline for a decade and it was time to move forward.

“MPs are MPs,” she said. “They are not doctors, they are not scientists. I first heard about this in 2004 – it has not been rushed through.”

Public Health Minister Jane Ellison told MPs fears over the technique would fade away just as concerns over IVF had done.

“Successive governments have responded to advances in science which have been controversial in their day,” she said.

“Many MPs will cast their mind back to the debates about IVF. There are MPs here today in the chamber who I suspect would have probably been extremely wary of IVF techniques who have written to me in the last year asking me to help infertile couples in their constituency.”

And she dismissed concerns over children having three genetic parents: “Surely we cannot reduce the notion of parenthood to genes.

“Many of the people who have spoken in this debate and particularly some of the people, the mover of the motion, has spoken often in other contexts about how parenthood is about so much more, about loving and nurturing and all of those things.”