Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics

, Volume 34, Issue 12, pp 1577–1580 | Cite as

Genetic affinity and the right to ‘three-parent IVF’

  • G. Owen Schaefer
  • Markus K. Labude


With the recent report of a live birth after use of mitochondrial replacement therapy, sometimes called ‘three-parent IVF’, the clinical application of the technique is fast becoming a reality. While the United Kingdom allows the procedure under regulatory scrutiny, it remains effectively outlawed in many other countries. We argue that such prohibitions may violate individuals’ procreative rights, grounded in individuals’ interest in genetic affinity. The interest in genetic affinity was recently endorsed by Singapore’s highest court, reflecting an emphasis on the importance of biological ties found across the globe. We apply that reasoning to make the case for a right to ‘three-parent IVF’.


Rights Three-parent IVF Mitochondrial replacement therapy Regulation Assisted human reproduction Genetic affinity 



We would like to thank the following individuals for their helpful input: Isabel Faber; Sharon Kaur; Lee Tsung-Ling; Voo Teck Chuan; Tamra Lysaght; Ainsley Newson; Peter Braude; the two anonymous reviewers for the Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics; and attendees at the 2017 Bioethics Public Forum on Mitochondria Replacement at the Science Centre Singapore.


This research did not receive any specific grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


  1. 1.
    Wolf DP, Mitalipov N, Mitalipov S. Mitochondrial replacement therapy in reproductive medicine. Trends Mol Med. 2015;21(2):68–76.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Falk MJ, Decherney A, Kahn JP. Mitochondrial replacement techniques—implications for the clinical community. N Engl J Med. 2016;374(12):1103–6.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Amato P, Tachibana M, Sparman M, Mitalipov S. Three-parent in vitro fertilization: gene replacement for the prevention of inherited mitochondrial diseases. Fertil Steril. 2014;101(1):31–5.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Zhang J, Liu H, Luo S, Lu Z, Chávez-Badiola A, Liu Z, et al. Live birth derived from oocyte spindle transfer to prevent mitochondrial disease. Reprod BioMed Online. 2017;34(4):361–8.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Coughlan A. First baby born using 3-parent technique to treat infertility. New Scientist [Internet]. 2017. Available from:
  6. 6.
    Mullin E. The fertility doctor trying to commercialize three-parent babies. MIT Technology Review [Internet]. 2017. Available from:
  7. 7.
    Sample I. First UK licence to create three-person baby granted by fertility regulator. The Guardian [Internet]. 2017. Available from:
  8. 8.
    Araki M, Ishii T. International regulatory landscape and integration of corrective genome editing into in vitro fertilization. Reprod Biol Endocrinol. 2014;12(1):108.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Adashi EY, Cohen IG. Mitochondrial replacement therapy: unmade in the USA. JAMA. 2017;317(6):574.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Baylis F. The ethics of creating children with three genetic parents. Reprod BioMed Online. 2013;26(6):531–4.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Rulli T. The mitochondrial replacement “therapy” myth. Bioethics. 2017;31(5):368–74.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Baylis F. Human nuclear genome transfer (so-called mitochondrial replacement): clearing the underbrush. Bioethics. 2017;31(1):7–19.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Rulli T. Preferring a genetically-related child. J Moral Philos. 2016;13(6):669–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    ACB v Thomson Medical Pte Ltd and others. Singapore Law Report. 2017;1:918–1014.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Raz J. On the nature of rights. Mind. 1984;XCIII(370):194–214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Velleman JD. II. The gift of life. Philos Public Aff. 2008;36(3):245–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Kolodny N. Which relationships justify partiality? The case of parents and children. Philos Public Aff. 2010;38(1):37–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Bin Ibrahim AH, Abdul Rahman NN, Saifuddeen SM. Advances in tri-parent baby technology: the bioethical challenge for Muslims. In: Kamali MH, Bakar O, Batchelor DA-F, Hashim R, editors. Islamic perspectives on science and technology: selected conference papers. Singapore: Springer Singapore Imprint: Springer; 2016.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Widdows H. The impact of new reproductive technologies on concepts of genetic relatedness and non-relatedness. In: Widdows H, Idiakez IA, Cirion AE, editors. Women’s Reproductive rights. New York: Palgrave Macmillan; 2006.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Edwards RG, Sharpe DJ. Social values and research in human embryology. Nature. 1971;231(5298):87–91.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Klitzman R, Toynbee M, Sauer MV. Controversies concerning mitochondrial replacement therapy. Fertil Steril. 2015;103(2):344–6.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Nuffield Council on Bioethics. Novel techniques for the prevention of mitochondrial DNA disorders: an ethical review. London: Nuffield Council on Bioethics; 2012.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Dimond R. Social and ethical issues in mitochondrial donation Fig. 1. Br Med Bull. 2015;115(1):173–82.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Rulli T. What is the value of three-parent IVF? Hast Cent Rep. 2016;46(4):38–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Greenfield A, Braude P, Flinter F, Lovell-Badge R, Ogilvie C, Perry T. Scientific review of the safety and efficacy of methods to avoid mitochondrial disease through assisted conception 2016 update. London: Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority; 2016.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Alikani M, Fauser BCJ, García-Valesco JA, Simpson JL, Johnson MH. First birth following spindle transfer for mitochondrial replacement therapy: hope and trepidation. Reprod BioMed Online. 2017;34(4):333–6.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. Code of Practice: 8th Edition [Internet]. London; 2016. Available from:

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Biomedical Ethics, Yong Loo Lin School of MedicineNational University of SingaporeSingaporeSingapore

Personalised recommendations