Brent Scowcroft Center Nonresident Senior Fellow for Technology and National Security Jamie Metzl writes for the Washington Post on the need for the United States to have a national conversation on the future of human genetic manipulation:
The vote this week in the British Parliament to permit mitochondrial transfer treatments during in vitro fertilization (IVF) was a watershed moment in the evolution of our species. This procedure allows doctors to replace diseased mitochondria — the powerhouses of our cells — with healthy donor mitochondria in the eggs or early-stage embryos of prospective mothers. Although the genes contained in our mitochondria only account for less than 0.2 percent of our total genome, this treatment technically results in babies with three genetic parents.
Coming after more than three years of careful study and public outreach, the vote in the House of Commons puts the United Kingdom on a path to becoming the first country in the world to authorize this type of human genetic engineering. (The provision must now move to the House of Lords, where its passage is almost certain.) For the thousands of British women carrying mitochondrial genetic defects, the vote was a godsend that has the potential to spare their future children needless suffering and even premature death.