‘Designer babies’ law in the UK a study in irresponsible reporting

Friday 27 February 2015

Media reports on advances in medical genetics have a sad tendency to carry a dystopian tone. It is often the case that scarcely a paragraph is written before talk of ‘designer babies’ and Huxleyan disadvantage come to dominate the narrative. While this makes for punchy storytelling, it does little to represent the science accurately.

The recent landslide decision by the British House of Commons to allow the creation of IVF babies with genetic input from three people has served as a distressing example of the power of the media to dangerously distort scientific findings and conjure misleading narratives from potentially important and useful science.

The scientific advancement in question here focuses on a particularly important component of our cells: the mitochondria. As an integral part of how our cells turn food into energy, malfunctions of the mitochondria can result in a number of conditions, ranging from mild to fatal. These conditions tend to affect the most energy-demanding organs of the body, such as the brain, heart and liver. The mitochondria are maternally inherited, so if your mother carried malfunctioning mitochondria it was previously inevitable that you would too.

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