A momentous decision was made this week.
In only slightly more time than it took the Loose Women to decide if Fifty Shades star Jamie Dornan is truly the Sexiest Man of the Year, MPs voted overwhelmingly to legalise the creation of babies with DNA from three parents.
If the Lords agree, Britain will become the first country in the world to endorse this brave new genetic innovation, allowing couples to create healthy embryos using donated mitochondria – the batteries of DNA – from another mother.
The first child created using the IVF technique could be born as early as the end of next year. It offers hope of a miracle to families blighted by incurable genetic conditions and, because the altered DNA would be passed down, future generations could be disease-free.
The new science has some powerful opponents – including the Church of England – who fear it could open the door to ‘designer babies’.
I’ve given it a lot of thought this week, because one of those designer babies could, conceivably, be mine.
Fourteen years ago, I became an egg donor at a fertility clinic in London. It wasn’t altruism, it was an act of desperation.
We had been told we might never conceive our own child naturally and, faced with the astronomical costs of IVF, I opted for ‘Egg Sharing’ – donating some of my eggs in order to pay for my own treatment further down the line.
After a couple of weeks of drug injections to hyperstimulate my ovaries, a total of 15 eggs were ‘harvested’, eight of which went immediately to an infertile couple to be fertilised with the husband’s sperm.
The rest, according to the forms I shakily remember signing, were to be frozen for future donation or for use in medical research. Looking back, I don’t think I had any conception of what this might mean. In 2001, we hadn’t even mapped the human genome yet, so the idea that my DNA might someday contribute to the cutting edge of medical science barely registered in the scheme of my own baby-making project.
Now, having completed my family with two children conceived naturally (the IVF failed, but nature prevailed), I am awed by the implications of the decision I made.
At the time, prior to the change in the law in April 2005, which allowed donor-conceived children aged 18 to contact their biological parents, my only concern was how to fill the ‘non-identifying information’ box, which would give my future ‘donor babies’ a snapshot of where they came from.
Significantly, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has ruled that women who donate their mitochondria would remain anonymous and have no rights over the child or be involved in the child’s upbringing.
Since 2005 when anonymity was abolished, fewer donors have registered and an egg shortage has created waiting lists of at least a year at some clinics.