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Maeve’s Law: WA Liberal Senator to oppose mitochondrial disease bill on moral grounds

Kimberley Caines | The West Australian

08/02/2022

WA Liberal Senator Matt O’Sullivan is among a group of conservative MPs expected to vote against new legislation on Wednesday that aims to prevent passing on mitochondrial disease to unborn children.

The Mitochondrial Donation Law Reform Bill, also known as Maeve’s Law, will legalise the process of using a donor egg to allow people with the disorder to avoid passing it on to their children if it is passed in the Senate.

It is set to go to a conscience vote on Wednesday — the first such vote since same-sex marriage passed in 2017 — and a group of Coalition members are expected to oppose it.

Mr O’Sullivan along with other senators debated the bill late into Tuesday night, which was the first sitting day of the year.

In his speech in the Senate, he said he would oppose the bill on “moral grounds”.

“While I appreciate its intention, and honour those who have lobbied for it, the bill presents serious moral issues to me, and I do not believe that appropriate safeguards have been enacted to prevent the worst excesses of this science,” Mr O’Sullivan said.

“Despite the best intentions of this bill, it will eventually create embryos with the genetic material of three adults, while destroying other embryos and zygotes.

“It is for this reason in particular that I cannot support this bill. As someone who believes that life begins at conception, the idea of using these embryos simply as a source of genetic materials is anathema to me.”

WA Liberal Senator Matt O’Sullivan is among a group of conservative MPs expected to vote against new legislation on Wednesday that aims to prevent passing on mitochondrial disease to unborn children.

The Mitochondrial Donation Law Reform Bill, also known as Maeve’s Law, will legalise the process of using a donor egg to allow people with the disorder to avoid passing it on to their children if it is passed in the Senate.

It is set to go to a conscience vote on Wednesday — the first such vote since same-sex marriage passed in 2017 — and a group of Coalition members are expected to oppose it.

Mr O’Sullivan along with other senators debated the bill late into Tuesday night, which was the first sitting day of the year.

A file image of the House of Representatives chamber
Federal MPs are set to vote on whether to legalise partial DNA donation. Credit: AAP
In his speech in the Senate, he said he would oppose the bill on “moral grounds”.

“While I appreciate its intention, and honour those who have lobbied for it, the bill presents serious moral issues to me, and I do not believe that appropriate safeguards have been enacted to prevent the worst excesses of this science,” Mr O’Sullivan said.

“Despite the best intentions of this bill, it will eventually create embryos with the genetic material of three adults, while destroying other embryos and zygotes.

“It is for this reason in particular that I cannot support this bill. As someone who believes that life begins at conception, the idea of using these embryos simply as a source of genetic materials is anathema to me.”

Aleksandra Filipovska of WAIMR
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Each year about 60 Australian babies are born with severe and life-threatening forms of mitochondrial disease, which is fatal and has no cure, and could be prevented with three-person IVF.

Three-person IVF is a technique that uses the mother’s and father’s nuclear DNA and replaces the mother’s defective mitochondrial DNA with healthy mitochondrial DNA from a donor egg.

It is currently illegal in Australia, based on existing legislation around genetic manipulation.

Perth’s Preeti Raghwani lost her daughter, Ziya, to mitochondrial disease just four months shy of her second birthday.

She said the passing of Maeve’s Law meant hope for families wanting to have children without a disease that often led to premature death or lifelong suffering.

“There’s been so much rigour and research behind the legislation,” Ms Raghwani said.

“Many have lived through years of uncertainty. We need to take this next step.

“So many people will benefit, not just one or two Australians — we are talking about countless generations that will benefit, who would otherwise be facing an incredibly difficult life, or a life cut far too short.

“The time to address this is now and it will make an incredible difference to so many.”

Mito Foundation CEO Sean Murray said Senators had an opportunity to help end the suffering of thousands of Australian families by legalising mitochondrial donation in Australia.

“If passed, Maeve’s Law will allow mitochondrial donation to be introduced in Australia, through a staged approach and under strict regulatory conditions, to prevent transmission of severe mito,” Mr Murray said.

“Maeve’s Law allows Australia to keep in step with advances in science and reproductive medicine and gives Australians with the inherited disease the chance to raise a healthy family.”

The bill is expected to pass.