Singapore could become the second country after the United Kingdom to legalize three-parent babies, a technique for giving birth to children who would otherwise have a genetic disease. Technically known as mitochondrial replacement therapy (MRT), the procedure was legalised in 2016 in Britain after a long and intense debate in the media and Parliament.
Singapore is trying to foster cutting-edge biological science and follows developments elsewhere carefully. “Our position is to keep a close watch on what happens in the UK, to track the UK experience, and to learn from what they have done,” geneticist Oi Lian Kon told Science magazine. He is leading a review panel for the government’s Bioethics Advisory Committee.
According to Science, “No other countries have adopted laws specifically about MRT. Many have a blanket ban on changing the human germline that includes the technique. Thailand is the only country that does not explicitly prohibit altering the human genome, whereas Italy and Israel permit it under certain conditions.”
Meanwhile, a clinic in Ukraine is already performing the technique and marketing it internationally. One MRT baby has already been born after the mother was treated at The Nadiya (hope) Clinic in Kiev, three more are pregnant, and several others are undergoing treatment. The director, Valery Zukin, was not flustered when a journalist from National Public Radio (US) quizzed him about the ethical issues. "As a doctor I understand only one thing: We have parents who couldn't have children and now they have their own biological child. That's all," he told NPR.
However, MTR is currently illegal in the US – a wise move, according to Marcy Darnovsky, of the Center for Genetics and Society, in California. "What we're seeing is a fast slide down a very slippery slope toward designer babies," Darnovsky told NPR. "We could see parents feeling eager to give their children traits like greater strength, needs less sleep. Some people are saying that, 'Yes, there are genes for IQ and we could have smarter babies.' "
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