A clinic in Newcastle upon Tyne has been granted the UK’s first licence to carry out a trial of “three person IVF” (Mitochondrial Replacement Therapy, or MRT). The fertility technique is intended to be used by couples who want to prevent genetic diseases being passed on to their children, due to faulty mitochondrial DNA. The process uses genetic material from the mother, father and a female donor, and replaces faulty genetic material in the mother’s DNA with the female donor’s genetic material.
There have already been a small number of three parent IVF pregnancies elsewhere in the world, resulting in reportedly healthy babies.
However the technique is not without its controversies and critics. Continue reading
Spencer v Anderson (Paternity Testing)  EWHC 851 (Fam) – read judgment
A fascinating case in the Family Division throws up a number of facts that some may find surprising. One is that this is the first time the courts in this country have been asked to direct post-mortem scientific testing to establish paternity. The other is that DNA is not covered by the Human Tissue Act, because genetic material does not contain human cells. One might wonder why the statute doesn’t, given that DNA is the instruction manual that makes the human tissue that it covers – but maybe updating the 2004 law to cover genetic material would create more difficulties than it was designed to resolve.
The facts can be briefly stated. The applicant had been made aware of his possible relationship to S, who had died of bowel cancer some years before. When S had presented with the disease, it turned out that there was a family history of such cancer. The hospital treating him therefore took a blood sample and extracted DNA from it to test for high-risk genes. If the applicant was the son of the deceased he would have a 50% risk of inherited predisposition to bowel cancer. This risk would be mitigated by biannual colonoscopies. Continue reading
Jack Lowe and Dennis Reynolds, Plaintiffs v Atlas Logistics Group Retail Services
The first prosecution under the 2008 US Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) has won $2.25 million jury damages for the individuals involved .
I have posted about genetic discrimination here and here. In the US some of these problems have been foreseen and legislated against: GINA prohibits discrimination against healthy individuals for employment decisions or health insurance purposes on the basis of genetic information alone; it also prevents employers and insurance providers from demanding or using information from genetic tests.
The law does include limited exemptions, however. Forensic laboratories can ask workers for their DNA to check that employees’ genetic material does not contaminate the genetic samples that they analyse. Continue reading
X & Anor v Z (Children) & Anor  EWCA Civ 34 – read judgment
The Court of Appeal has ruled that it would not be lawful for DNA originally collected by the police to be used by a local authority for the purposes of a paternity test.
Factual and legal background
X’s wife had been found murdered. The police took DNA from the crime scene. Some of the DNA belonged to X’s wife and some was found to be X’s. X was tried and convicted of his wife’s murder.
X’s wife had young children and they were taken into the care of the local authority. During the care proceedings X asserted that he was the biological father of the children and said he wanted to have contact with them. He refused to take a DNA test to prove his alleged paternity. The local authority asked the police to make the DNA from the crime scene available so that it could be used in a paternity test. The police, with the support of the Home Secretary, refused on the grounds that they did not believe that it would be lawful to do so. Continue reading
M.R. and D.R.(suing by their father and next friend O.R.) & ors -v- An t-Ard-Chláraitheoir & ors  IESC 60 (7 November 2014) – read judgment
The definition of a mother, whether she is “genetic” or “gestational” for the purpose of registration laws was a matter for parliament, not the courts, the Irish Supreme Court has ruled.
At the core of the case was the question whether a mother whose donated ova had resulted in twin children born by a surrogacy arrangement should be registered as their parent, as opposed to the gestational mother who had borne the twins.
The genetic mother and father sought her registration as “mother” under the Civil Registration Act, 2004, along with a declaration that she was entitled to have the particulars of her maternity entered on the Certificate of Birth, and that the twins were entitled to have their relationship to the fourth named respondent recorded on their Certificates of Birth. Continue reading
D’Arcy v Myriad Genetics Inc  FCAFC 115 (5 September 2014) – read judgment The recent ruling from the Full Federal Court of Australia allowing the breast cancer gene isolated in the laboratory to be patented contrasts sharply with the ruling by the US Supreme Court last year that a naturally occurring DNA segment is a “product of nature” and therefore not patent eligible merely because it has been isolated. The implications of this ruling for gene testing and patenting of biological products have been eloquently discussed elsewhere and I will not attempt to cover the same ground – see for example the excellent discussion posted by the Enhanced Genetic Services Project. All I want to point up in this post – apart from the obvious need for intellectual property law to encompass the development of science and technology – is the Australian court’s focus on how easily misled one may be by semantics in this sort of dispute. This ruling upholds an earlier decision that gene patenting is permissible under Australian law, declaring that “the boundaries of the conception of patentability are not dictated only by deductive logic from the linguistic premises formulated in the scientific knowledge of a particular age”. The concept of patentability has been broadening since the first quarter of the 17th century, and there is no reason why it should reach an artificial wall erected by unfathomable and unexplained “laws of nature” (a premise much relied upon by the US Supreme Court). I posted last year on the decision of the US Supreme Court in Association for Molecular Pathology v Myriad Genetics Inc. It will be remembered that that Court held that a sequence of DNA mimicking the BRCA breast cancer mutation could not be patented because DNA’s information sequences and all the other processes that allow the information to manufacture bodily tissues occur naturally within human cells. Continue reading
There’s a crisis in South Africa’s mortuaries – in the investigation of death.
This is due to a number of problems – incompetent staff who fail to gather forensic evidence, creaking and inadequate facilities, and the sheer number of dead bodies waiting to be processed. In a gripping but bleak documentary about Salt River Mortuary, which is responsible for processing cadavers in the Western Cape, the figures will make you gasp and stretch your eyes:
For the Western Cape alone, 3,000 bodies are handled by this Mortuary each year. Of this number, 65% are unnatural deaths (accidents, suicides, homicides). Of that number (approx 2,000) a staggering 80% are homicides – in other words, Salt River is responsible for providing the forensic evidence for reconstructing the crime scenes leading to 1,600 murders a year.
Watch the ten minute film here. Continue reading