House of Representatives passes Maeve's Law as 60 doctors urge Senate to back it

Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong
Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

A large group of medical experts, doctors, and scientists have urged parliament to back a controversial bill allowing new genetic treatments for a deadly disease.

The House of Representatives passed the mitochondrial donation bill - better known as Maeve's Law - in its first conscience vote since passing marriage equality in 2017.

There was no known cure and a lack of effective therapies for mitochondrial disease, which caused a vast array of health concerns and often proved deadly.

If passed by the Senate, a woman at risk of transmitting the condition would be able to have a genetically-related child, after replacing her faulty mitochondria with a healthy replacement from a donor egg.

In an open letter, 60 medical experts and doctors, including former Chief Scientist Ian Chubb, insisted the bill included "thoughtful, modern" safety nets and urged the Upper House to back it.

"World class clinical, reproductive medicine and ethics expertise is available in Australia to support this technology, but it is currently not legal to do so," the letter read.

"The licencing requirements within the Bill provide for appropriately strong control and regulation while the law has a range of provisions and safeguards for families that consider mitochondrial donation."

Some MPs and religious groups were concerned it opened the possibility of a commercial market for donor eggs, and genetic engineering. The bill passed the Lower House after amendments to prevent the laws being used for sex selection.

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison said respectful debate from both sides showed the House "at its best". "This has been a very difficult issue, I know, for many. Indeed these issues, as a person of faith, are difficult for me," he said.

The Murdoch Children's Research Institute's David Thorburn, who has worked in the field for three decades, also signed the letter.

Dr Thorburn said Australia had a "long, world-leading history" in relation to IVF and assisted fertility treatments. "Mitochondrial disorders are incredibly serious, and Maeve's Law provides an important opportunity to support the thousands of Australians that face the disease, have lost family members to mito, or may potentially pass it on to their children," he said.

Liberal MP Kevin Andrews said his "serious reservations" about the bill had been assuaged by a government amendment, which would prevent the new laws being used for sex selection.

Professor Thorburn said all sides could take credit for the "significant, extensive, and respectful" consultation process.

"Understandably, there are ethical considerations for a law such as this. It is important that we are incredibly respectful of these concerns," he said.

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This story Doctors urge MPs to back Maeve's Law first appeared on The Canberra Times.