Blog Post

Ethical Concerns Surrounding Three-Parent Offspring

IVFEthicists are sounding the alarm about possible human clinical trials in a controversial new fertilization technique that could create babies from the DNA of three people in order to avoid passing on defective genes.

According to MyFoxNY.com, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) held hearings this week about allowing a procedure that involves removing the nucleus DNA from a healthy female donor's eggs and replacing it with the nucleus DNA of the prospective mother. After fertilization, the resulting child would inherit the mother's nucleus DNA - which contains traits such as eye color and height - but the donor's healthy mitochondrial DNA.

"The technique initially made headlines as a way to create babies with three parents, but scientists say that's an overstatement, since the child would have only trace bits of DNA from the donor," MyFox reports. "No matter how it's described, the technique faces opposition from a broad spectrum of critics who say it presents serious medical, ethical and societal dilemmas."

Of primary concern is that the process involves the destruction of human life.

According to the Catholic News Agency, Robert George, McCormick professor of jurisprudence at Princeton, and Dr. Donald Landry, chair of the Department of Medicine at New York Presbyterian Hospital wrote a letter to the Food and Drug Administration advising against this procedure.

In the letter, they note that this technique "would have the dubious distinction of being the first assisted reproduction technology necessarily to involve the deliberate destruction of human embryos" in its processes.

Approving such a procedure for human trials "that systematically and necessarily destroys human embryos would mean permitting an unjust and immoral exploitation and instrumentalization of human life," they warned.

The  Center for Genetics and Society also argued against the human trials, saying they should not be permitted "because of the profound safety, efficacy, policy and social problems they would pose."

They wrote: "We question the ethics of bringing children into existence by experimental techniques that have had developmentally poor outcomes in studies using both animal and human" eggs.

As George and Landry point out in their letter, this process could also produce unexpected interactions between the genetic information of the parents which could impact children's development and other key health parameters. These genetic impacts would then be passed down to future generations, thus causing unintended health consequences to spread throughout the population.

This is why more than 40 countries, including Germany and France, have laws banning human gene modification that is passed on to future offspring.

In addition, Landry and George argue that children of sperm or egg donors often experience distress and suffering because of disrupted family relationships and no contact with their biological parents.

This new process, which would add another parent into the equation, "would create parental relationships unprecedented in nature, with children related to two genetic mothers" and "would be especially reckless and immoral" to support, they said.

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