Majority of UK Women Oppose Legalizing the Creation of "3-Person Embryos"

Posted by Jessica Cussins March 19, 2014
Biopolitical Times
picture of mulitipling human egg

A just-completed poll has found that the UK public is deeply conflicted about the UK government's move to legalize the creation of "3-person embryos."

The techniques under consideration – now called "mitochondrial donation" by the U.K Government – could allow a woman with a rare form of mitochondrial disease to have a healthy child that looks like her, but would mix-and-match the genetic material of three different people and result in risky inheritable changes to every one of the resulting child's cells.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) held a public consultation on the social and ethical concerns of what they called "mitochondria replacement" last year that also revealed deep uncertainty about allowing this experimental technology. The majority of people who responded to the largest (and only open) part of the HFEA's consultation said they opposed the legalization of the techniques. Unfortunately, for some reason the HFEA nonetheless represented the final results of that consultation as showing "broad support."

The just-completed poll was commissioned by the Christian charity CARE, and conducted by the market research agency ComRes, whose other clients include BBC, British Red Cross, Oxfam, and Lloyd's Banking Group. 

The press release about the ComRes poll states

The Government has suggested that the public is broadly supportive of the creation of three-parent children. This is certainly not the finding of our professionally conducted, representative polling.

The new poll found that

More women oppose the introduction of highly controversial techniques to help reduce the chances of women with human mitochondrial disease passing it on to their children than support it.

The poll asked 2,031 people three sets of questions. Overall, 35% supported changing the UK law to permit "3-parent embryos," 34% opposed it, and 31% said they didn't know. But out of the women who responded, who made up 52% of the total, only 31% supported the change while 36% opposed it.

Additionally, when people were told that "a number of scientists in the UK and abroad have expressed concerns about the safety of the procedures for the children conceived and any children they might go on to have," 41% of participants said they were less likely to support the legalization.

Participants were then asked whether they agreed or disagreed with a series of statements, which included the following:

Introducing regulations to permit 3-parent embryos is a welcome development at the current time.

Only 22% agreed. 38% disagreed and 41% said they didn't know.

Taking into account all the other pressures on Government, it is right for the Coalition Government to introduce regulations to permit 3-parent embryos at the present time.

Only 18% agreed. 41% disagreed and 41% said they didn't know.

Given that it's currently illegal to grow most GM crops for commercial purposes on the grounds of safety, it ought to be illegal to create genetically modified children.

Only 20% disagreed. 44% agreed and 36% said they didn't know.

These polling results were announced at a parliamentary meeting held at Westminster Hall on March 12 by Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg. He spoke passionately against the techniques, calling them "a multi-generational experiment with the lives of people" and pointing out that tests the HFEA had previously said should be conducted before any clinical trials have not yet been done.

CARE Chief Executive Nola Leach pointed out that

No mother wants to give a child human mitochondrial disease but neither do they want to give them potentially debilitating chromosomal abnormalities.

These new data and resources are a welcome addition to the ongoing discussion about these techniques. According to Health Minister Jane Ellison, MPs will be allowed to come to their own conclusion and vote with their conscience at the parliamentary vote that will follow the conclusion of the now open consultation in a few months time.

Previously on Biopolitical Times: