Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

The Science of Persuasion

By Michael Cook

How did scientists win the public relations war to persuade British Parliament to approve the creation of three-parent babies?

How did scientists win the public relations war to persuade British Parliament to approve the creation of three-parent babies?

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

After years of discussion, the British House of Commons has approved the creation of embryos with genetic material from two women and one man by a substantial majority – a vote of 382 to 128. The House of Lords will probably pass the bill, which amends the 2008 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, later this year.

Prof Alison Murdoch, one of the technique’s pioneers, said with relief: “This is good news for progressive medicine. In a challenging moral field, it has taken scientific advances into the clinic to meet a great clinical need and Britain has showed the world how it should be done.”

Britain is the first in the world to legalise this technique. How its scientists succeeded in their public relations campaign for “progressive medicine” is a lesson for the US and Australia.

Control the brand.

There are two approaches, one beginning with a woman’s eggs and the other with an embryo, but both transfer the nucleus of a cell with faulty mitochondria floating in its cytoplasm into a cell with healthy mitochondria from a second woman. Murdoch and her colleagues called this “mitochondrial transfer” (MT); opponents called it “three-parent babies”. Perhaps the less emotive term was the more persuasive one.

Exaggerate the health impact.

MT helps couples whose children would otherwise have...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.