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South African Journal of Bioethics and Law

On-line version ISSN 1999-7639


MAHOMED, S. Three to one - an ethicolegal outline of mitochondrial donation in the South African context. SAJBL [online]. 2023, vol.16, n.3, pp.95-98. ISSN 1999-7639.

Mitochondrial donation or mitochondrial transfer enables a woman with mitochondrial disease to have a genetically related child without transmitting the disease to the child. The techniques used for mitochondrial donation or transfer which are maternal spindle transfer or pro-nuclei transfer, require three gametes to ultimately produce a healthy embryo. Both these techniques result in the child inheriting nuclear DNA from the intending parents and mitochondrial DNA from the female donor. Following the legalisation of mitochondrial donation in the UK, after a rigorous process of scientific and ethical review, and the birth of another baby using the technique, coupled with the fact that there is no cure for mitochondrial disease, suggests that it is prudent for us to consider this reproductive intervention and its application in the South African setting. In addition, the 2019 UNESCO Report of the International Bioethics Committee (IBC) on assisted reproductive technologies (ART) and parenthood, encourages debate on changes in models of parenthood influenced by ART including the emergence of new models of families and forms of parenthood that extend beyond the classical rule of mater semper certa est (the mother is always known). ART, in particular mitochondrial donation, challenges this rule. The aim of this paper is to provide an outline of the legal and ethical positions of mitochondrial donation and resume the discussion with specific focus on the South African context.

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