LONDON, Sept. 17 (UPI) -- The British government is asking people to consider whether couples with a genetic risk of incurable defects should be allowed to use the DNA of a third party.
Jeremy Hunt, the British health secretary, said the technique -- which involves genetically modifying a human egg or embryo -- is currently forbidden, but a public debate and comment period began Monday on whether the clinical benefits outweigh the ethical concerns, The Daily Telegraph reported.
The technique -- dubbed three-parent baby fertility -- enters "unchartered territory" and raises serious ethical questions because the impact is not just on the child involved but for subsequent generations.
The technique, developed by researchers at Newcastle University, is designed to tackle a range of genetic conditions passed to children via mutations in 37 genes located in the mitochondria -- the tiny structures that supply power to cells -- and inherited solely from the mother.
In about 1-in-6,500 people, the level of damage causes the development of severe medical conditions such as muscular dystrophy and ataxia, a neurological condition affecting balance, coordination and speech.
By removing the nucleus from a woman's egg before fertilization and implanting it in a donor egg that has had its nucleus removed, and then using the egg in traditional in vitro fertilization, doctors remove the damaged mitochondria from the family line.
The public consultation, overseen by the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority, ends Dec. 7. Members of the public are encouraged to register their views via a dedicated website.