Sarah Knapton, Science Editor
Peers have approved historic legislation which would see Britain become the first country in the world to create three-parent babies, despite fears children could be born sterile.
Health minister Lord Howe urged the House of Lords to pass the amendment to the 2008 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act and permit controversial IVF techniques which are aimed at preventing serious inherited mitochondrial diseases.
MPs, including all three main party leaders, voted earlier this month in the Commons to legalise the mitochondrial donation technique, which uses genetic material from a ‘second mother’ to mend DNA faults.
But opponents, including church leaders and pro-life groups, havewarned that the change has been brought about too hastily and marked the start of a “slippery slope” towards designer babies and eugenics.
Lord Deben called for a delay and asked peers to form a committee to look at the safety and legality of the procedure.
He warned that children born from the technique could be sterile and argued that the majority of the public did not agree with the procedure.
“We have to protect three sets of people, the families, the children and the wider society,” he told the House of Lords.
“We should be concerned about the children who would be born in these circumstances. There are real doubts about safety.”
Former Attorney General Baroness Scotland also said the legislation had been rushed through and argued that neither the current Attorney General Jeremy Wright nor the Lord Chancellor supported the new law.
“This matter is not easy, it’s complex. Why the haste?” she added.
Baroness Hollins, chair of the British Medical Association’s Science Committee also said she could not support the new legislation while Baroness O’Loan warned that many more egg donors would be needed for the procedure whihc would place women at risk of complications from hyperstimulation.
However Lord Howe said mitochondrial replacement could ‘give real hope to families.’
“It would be cruel and perverse to deny them that opportunity for any longer than necessary,” he added.
Lord Winston, one of Britain’s leading fertility experts, also backed the law.
“I don’t believe that this technology threatens the fabric of our society in the slightest bit. On the contrary in a way it protects it. What we’re doing is recognising our limits by accepting regulation.”
The vote was passed 280 to 48 and will now become law in October. The first babies could be born next Autumn.
Newcastle University has already started offering women £500 to become ‘second mothers’ to three-parent babies.
Last weekend MEPs claimed that Britain has breached EU law and ‘violated human dignity’ by allowing the creating of three-parent babies.
But Chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies has argued that changing the mitochondria is no different from swapping a faulty car battery.
“It would give these women their own children and these families hope, and I believe this is right,” she said.
“We have a very strong regulatory system that would regulate first the service and secondly would review every individual case before they could happen.”
She also denied the legislation would lead to a “slippery slope” giving way to the creation of designer babies.
The move to amend the 2008 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, which forbids IVF treatments that affect inherited “germline” DNA in eggs and sperm, was carried by 382 votes to 128 in the Commons earlier this month.
Prime Minister David Cameron, Labour leader Ed Miliband and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg exercised their free vote to support the decision.
Research has shown that mitochondrial donation could potentially help almost 2,500 women of reproductive age in the UK who are at risk of transmitting harmful DNA mutations in the mitochondria.
Critics have pointed out no clinical trial has taken place to show conclusively that the treatments are safe in humans.
However, three separate expert reviews for the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority found that the procedures are ready to go forward.