Australia to have conscience vote on three-person baby IVF for mitochondrial disease

Australia is set to have the the first conscience vote since the same sex marriage debate on allowing “three-person baby” IVF to enable healthy babies to be born to women carrying deadly mitochondrial disease.

The reforms, which have already been approved in the UK, follow what was described as the world’s most comprehensive global scientific and ethical review of the treatment over a 10-year period.

At least 60 Australian babies born each year suffer with severe and life-threatening forms of mitochondrial disease that could be prevented by using the mother’s and father’s nuclear DNA and replacing the mother’s defective mitochondrial DNA with healthy mitochondrial DNA from a donor egg.

Britain has approved the “cautious” use of the scientific breakthrough in “specific circumstances where inheritance of the disease is likely to cause death or serious disease”.

There’s no suggestion that it would be allowed at this stage for IVF in Australia involving more than one biological mother, for example in lesbian or gay couples.

Mitochondrial donation has been allowed in the United Kingdom since 2015 allowing affected couples to seek IVF treatment to conceive. The first babies were born through the process in 2017.


Mito Foundation CEO Sean Murray told the scientific breakthrough would save lives.

“This is a very welcome next step towards preventing mitochondrial disease (mito) in the next generation of Australian kids,’’ he said.

“Every step, and every vote for legalising mitochondrial donation, is a step in the right direction.

“Mito, a debilitating and potentially fatal genetic disorder that robs the body’s cells of the energy they need to function properly, affects one Australian child born each week. Legalising mitochondrial donation in Australia will allow parents to reduce the risk of their children developing mitochondrial disease and of this terrible disease from being passed on through future generations.

“We thank the Government for its support and for working closely with families and the Mito Foundation over the past few years.”

The Mito Foundation runs the 35 kilometre Bloody Long Walk in Australia to raise awareness about the issue.

While the Prime Minister has not yet declared his view on a conscience vote he is expected to support the changes as he is an ambassador for the Mito Foundation.

The reforms are also supported by outgoing Labor health spokesman Chris Bowen who has worked on the reforms with the Morrison Government.

Conscience votes are rare in Australia. In the last 50 years they have included: the Abolition of the death penalty (1973) the Introduction of no-fault divorce (1974), the The Sex Discrimination Act (1984), Euthanasia laws applying to the Northern Territory (1996), The republic referendum (1999). Prohibition of human cloning and stem cell research (2002 and 2006), Introduction of abortion drug RU486 (2005) and Same-sex marriage (2017).

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