Genetic ethics and mtDNA replacement techniques

Courtney A. Brenner, Department of Healthcare Ethics, Duquesne University, USA.


The United Kingdom parliament made history in 2015 when they voted to allow the use of mitochondrial (mtDNA) replacement techniques. Mitochondrial diseases are genetically inherited and currently, the only known cure is replacement therapies. However, most other countries have been slow to adopt policy changes that allow for mtDNA replacement due to the ethical challenges of the techniques. While there are ethical challenges concerning mtDNA replacement, there is a need to address these challenges and allow these techniques in the US to provide treatment for individuals affected. This paper first addresses mitochondrial diseases and replacement techniques currently used and analyzes ethical challenges related to the interventions, such as safety, efficacy, and contributed genetic material from three individuals. This paper then addresses how the ethical principles, beneficence, nonmaleficence, autonomy and justice support mtDNA replacement. Suggestions on how the US can allow mtDNA replacement by adopting similar policy changes to the UK are provided, as well as additional measures to protect patients. Given the rate of individuals affected, severity of mitochondrial diseases, and lack of treatment options available, it's important to address how to overcome ethical challenges and policy barriers.