Playing catch up – legal issues arising from the go-ahead for mitochondrial transfers?

12 July 2013

On 28 June 2013, the UK Government announced that it has given the go ahead to a technique called “mitochondrial transfer”, which could not have been better timed - just ahead of the second International Family Law and Practice Conference 2013 “Parentage, Equality and Gender”. 

In short, mitochondrial transfer is a process whereby DNA which is known to cause debilitating illness can be extracted from a human egg and replaced with other “good” DNA from the egg of another woman.  When that reconstituted egg is fertilised, the resulting embryo will contain the DNA of three natural parents-to-be. 

The law will have to determine what role each parent might play in the life of the resulting child, no doubt building upon the jurisprudence that has developed around a case of A v B and C [2012] EWCA Civ 285

The topics debated at the above conference, over its three day duration (3 – 5 July 2013), amongst the delegates from countries as far afield as Canada, Australia, the US, South Africa and New Zealand to name but a few ranged from developments in the law relating to “alternative” families to the concept of “parental gatekeeping”, whereby one parent, usually the mother, seeks to regulate the relationship which she thinks is appropriate between the child or children and the other parent.

England and Wales can take a lot from the experience, practice and development of laws dealing with common family problems in other jurisdictions, but as we appear to be the only country in the world permitting the development of mitochondrial transfer, we will also be in the forefront of developing and regulating the even wider ambit of families which presently fall within our group definition of “alternative”.

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