Free Church Professor raises concerns over three parent embryo plans

A retired surgeon and Professor of Ethics has criticised recent comments made by a senior north-east bishop about plans for three-parent embryos.

Anglican Bishop of Aberdeen and Orkney Bob Gillies recently welcomed the proposals, but the Free Church of Scotland’s Rev Dr Donald MacDonald argued that the bishop presented an “over-optimistic view” and had also failed to understand what was involved.

Dr MacDonald, who taught Practical Theology and Ethics at Edinburgh Theological Seminary before his retirement, said that not a single child who suffers from a mitochondrial disease would benefit, but rather it is “a form of eugenics to improve the human gene pool”.

The former surgeon remarked: “I was very concerned to see Bishop Gillies playing down the possible dangers of these procedures.

“If someone of the calibre of a bishop is finding it difficult to understand the ethics of these procedures, what does this mean for the rest of us?

“For the first time in any country it will be legal to effect a change in a human embryo which is capable of being passed on to future generations – an alteration of the human germ line.

“This is an action which, so far, no one has dared to take, because of its uncertain consequences.

“The techniques used bear some resemblance to cloning, which proved to be a dead end due to its harmful effects.

“One expert, who has worked on mitochondria for twenty years, has advised extreme caution and that the techniques should be tested in primates before experimenting on humans.

“We should be putting the children which may be born from these procedures first!

“At present they are at risk of very serious biological and also sociological consequences.”

Dr MacDonald continued: “The possible procedures, even if they prove to be effective, will not benefit a single child who suffers from a condition transmitted by mitochondrial DNA.

“Rather it is a form of eugenics, which weeds out individuals with some defect and attempts to improve the human gene pool.

“What I would favour is that more research be done on direct study of the mitochondrial defects with a view to correcting them. This would be a real treatment and would help the affected families for whom we must have a lot of compassion.

“I hope that the HFEA will insist on extreme caution and not allow scientific hubris to push ahead with human experimentation until more is known. The rest of the world will be watching!”