Catholic Medical Quarterly

The Journal of the Catholic Medical Association (UK)

Building knowledge. Building faith. Protecting the vulnerable.

Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 63(3) August 2013


Mitochondrial Replacement Therapy

The HFEA has recently approved mitochondrial gene therapy for the treatment of severe mitochondrial disorders. None of us can or should deny the seriousness of mitochondrial disease, but it is worth considering what the approved technique will mean. In a nutshell, this therapy intends to enable a mother with severe mitochondrial disease to have a baby without that disease. It requires the creation in vitro of an embryo conceived from maternal egg and paternal sperm. Then another embryo, from another mother and father is taken and enucleated, with the nucleus of the (mitochondrially diseased) mother being transferred. Thus a child, free of mitochondrial disease, is created who has genetic material from three parents.

This therapy, while effective thus requires the creation of a human life from three parents. It also requires the inevitable destruction of the embryo which “donates” the healthy mitochondria.

As Dr Sutton elegantly points out in this journal (p28-32), the human embryo, alive and human, has a dimension which transcends its mere physical being. The product of all this may be a healthy child. But the end cannot justify the means here which is the necessary destruction of another.

There are times, when all doctors and nurses must stand back and say they cannot cooperate with an act which is wrong. Sadly, following the HFEA’s approval of it, mitochondrial therapy has joined that list.