Comment to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) on Mitochondrial Disease

March 20, 2014 • Posted in Blog

To: The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority

RE: Call for evidence: Update to scientific review of the methods to avoid mitochondrial disease

Comment: As the executive director of The Tennessee Center for Bioethics & Culture, a physician, and bioethicist, I submit the following for your consideration.

Describing materials and methods is an important part of any experiment, as all scientists are well aware. To that end, it is important to fully describe all materials and methods used in any experiment. The proposal to utilise MST or PNT for mitochondrial disease is destined to fail in this regard. For the “materials and methods” section of this experiment to be described would have to take into account the very beings–boys and girls–being formed by the experiment. But it does not end there; no. All future generations of any females born through this experiment would be affected as well. The HFEA is well aware of this, for in the call for evidence is included this paragraph:

Until knowledge has built up that suggests otherwise, the panel recommended that any female born following MST or PNT should be advised, when old enough, that she may herself be at risk of having a child with a significant level of mutant mtDNA, putting this child or (if a female) subsequent generations at risk of mitochondrial disease. Thus, the Panel recommend that any female born following MST or PST is advised that, should she wish to have children of her own, that her oocytes or early embryos are analysed by PGD in order to select for embryos free of abnormal mtDNA. This has the potential to eliminate risk in subsequent generations.

“Call for evidence: Update to scientific review of the methods to avoid mitochondrial disease,”

Reference link here; accessed 19 March 2014

Never before has the free world approved the experimentation upon all future generations of some of its citizens. In fact, the Helsinki Declaration (some iteration of which was referenced by the HFEA in the Post Hwang Meeting, 1 March 2006) stated, “In medical research involving human subjects, the well-being of the individual research subject must take precedence over all other interests.” If the HFEA takes seriously the Helsinki Declaration, the well-being of which “individual research subject” is being considered in the case of mitochondrial disease? Obviously, when generations are affected by decisions made today, one is not considering the well-being of “individual research subjects.”

Never before has the free world placed control of what future generations will in essence be, in the hands of a few, even in the name of science. While the materials and methods of this experiment cannot be written, some of the conclusions are already known.

  1. This means the power of a few to make others what pleases them (the few).
  2. These few will have the power of the state behind them (witness what will be told the females produced by this experiment, as described above, in the words of the HFEA).

These conclusions are not new. Oxford’s own Professor Clive Staples Lewis described the results of an experiment such as being currently proposed when he eloquently penned in 1943:

For the power of Man to make himself what he pleases means . . . the power of some men to make other men what they please.

. . .the man-moulders of the new age will be armed with the powers of an omnicompetent state and an irresistible scientific technique: we shall get at last a race of conditioners who really can cut out all posterity in what shape they please.

There neither is nor can be any simple increase of power on Man’s side.

Each new power won by man is a power over man as well. Each advance leaves him weaker as well as stronger. In every victory, besides being the general who triumphs, he is also the prisoner who follows the triumphal car.

The Abolition of Man (San Francisco: Harper SanFrancisco, 1974), 58-60.

I urge you not to allow human germline modification on your watch.

Respectfully submitted,
D. Joy Riley, M.D., M.A.
Executive Director
The Tennessee Center for Bioethics & Culture