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LIFE DIGEST: British agency approves two-mother embryos; Pellegrino to chair bioethics panel; judge upholds consent law

WASHINGTON (BP)–A British regulatory agency has approved the creation of human embryos that have two mothers and a father.

Although proponents of the research claimed it was not another step toward creating “designer babies,” the researchers’ goal is to reproduce healthy children, British online newspapers reported. Pro-life advocates and others criticized the action by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA).

The HFEA approved Sept. 8 an appeal by a team of scientists from Newcastle University after initially rejecting the request. The authority licensed the team to transfer two “pronuclei” from a human embryo into an unfertilized egg without the nucleus. In this process, a woman with mitochondrial defects will provide a nucleus while another will provide an egg with healthy mitochondria.

The research’s purpose is to seek to prevent mothers from passing genetic diseases onto their children. The mitochondria produce power to be used by cells. Research on mice has demonstrated the transfer of mitochondrial disease can be blocked by switching the nucleus of an egg with unhealthy mitochondria to an egg with healthy mitochondria.

The Newcastle researchers plan to perform research that proves safe and successful for several years but also intend to seek permission to use it to produce healthy offspring, the Times reported.

Hussein Mehmet of Imperial College in London said the licensing of the experiments “appears to contradict [the HFEA’s] own point of view,” according to the Times.

“Similar experiments carried out by an American group were frowned upon by the HFEA…. I find it rather paradoxical that the HFEA will have awarded a license for research whose clinical application, which will alter the germ line of the baby, is by their own definition unethical,” Mehmet told the Times.

Josephine Quintaville of the pro-life organization Comment on Reproductive Ethics said, according to the Times, “This shows once again that the HFEA does not have any regard for public consultation and the views of the public.”

John Burn, director of the Newcastle Institute of Clinical Genetics said there was no reason not to approve the experiments.

“My belief is that what we are doing is changing a battery that doesn’t work for one that does,” Burn told the Times. “The analogy is with a camera: changing the battery won’t affect what’s on the film, and changing the mitochondria won’t affect the important DNA.”

NEW BIOETHICS CHAIR –- President Bush has appointed Edmund Pellegrino, a highly respected medical ethicist with pro-life views, as the new chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics.

Pellegrino, 85, professor emeritus of medicine and medical ethics at Georgetown University Medical Center, will replace University of Chicago ethicist Leon Kass Oct. 1 as the council’s chairman, it was announced Sept. 7. Kass, who served four years as chairman of the 18-member panel, will remain on the council.

Kass was not forced out of the chairmanship, a council spokeswoman told Baptist Press. He was burdened by the administrative load and had told the White House about a year ago he was ready to step down, Diane Gianelli said.

“He loves the job, but come on — he’s been here for four years,” said Gianelli, the council’s director of communications. “[He] wanted to have time to do other things too.”

With Kass as chairman, the panel issued reports on such issues as cloning, stem cell research and assisted reproduction. Proponents of embryonic stem cell research and cloning for research purposes criticized Kass’ leadership and his positions on some issues. The panel’s members included those on both sides of the stem cell and research cloning debates.

Pellegrino has testified before Congress in support of a permanent ban on both federally and privately funded stem cell research on human embryos. Such experimentation results in the destruction of embryos.

Pellegrino is a member of the international bioethics committee of the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). He is a founding member of Do No Harm: The Coalition of Americans for Research Ethics and a senior fellow with the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity.

The Christian Medical and Dental Association gave Pellegrino its 2005 Servant of Christ Award.

WIN IN OHIO –- A federal judge has upheld an Ohio law requiring parental consent for a minor’s abortion.

Judge Sandra Beckwith of Cincinnati ruled as constitutional Sept. 8 a seven-year-old state law that mandates consent by a parent before an underage girl receives an abortion and that requires a woman to receive information about abortion from a doctor in person at least 24 hours before the procedure.

The law “does not impose any undue burdens on the abortion right,” Beckwith wrote in her decision. Her ruling removes an order that had blocked enforcement of the law since shortly after its enactment in 1998.