The UK rubber stamp Embryo Authority–which for example allowed human cloning experiments with animal eggs–is on the verge of permitting the manufacture of three-parent embryos. The process is done by taking the nucleus out of the egg of one woman, putting it into the enucleated egg of another woman, and then fertilizing with sperm. Voila, three biological parents.
The purported reason for this approach is to enable women with mitochondrial disease–who would be the nuclear donors–to bear biologically related children. But you know it won’t stop there. At some point, the process will be used to help, say, polyamorous threesomes or lesbian couples have children biologically related to all partners-that is to facilitate lifestyle desires, not prevent disease.
An article in Real Clear Science by Dr. Alex B. Berezow argues on behalf of the process. Berezow brings up three of the main objections to this procedure and dismisses them. I will respond to each of his claims. From, “We Should Allow Three Parent Embryos:”
Critics say that the safety of the procedure is unknown. That is indeed true. Further study and clinical trials should be conducted. However, a mother with a mitochondrial disease who wishes to have her own children may very well choose to accept the risk. Remember, she has nearly a 100% chance of passing on a disease to her child; this technique would greatly reduce that risk.
Excuse me? So, even though we don’t know about the safety, we should go where parents have never gone before? No.
Remember, these embryos would literally be made from broken eggs. As we have seen in cloning, that can lead to terrible developmental problems during gestation, and born cloned mammals often have significant health concerns. IVF babies also have worse health outcomes than naturally conceived children.
Allowing the manufacture of three-parent children when safety concerns remain insufficiently explored would be blatant human experimentation. And isn’t this the bane of our times! Just because a woman “wants” something, that doesn’t mean we should turn ethics on its head so she can have it.
Then Berezow engages in what I call ”double-down ethics:”
Other critics worry about the ethics of destroying embryos. However, it should be kept in mind that standard IVF also destroys embryos. Extra embryos are always made, and the “leftover” embryos are often discarded or frozen indefinitely. It is estimated that some 600,000 embryos sit unwanted in freezers in the United States alone.
In other words, if we have already done wrong Action A–and I do think it was wrong to create excess embryos in IVF destined for destruction or experimentation–then we can also do wrong Action B. That’s just blatant bootstrapping, a way of never saying no.
Back to Berezow:
Finally, some critics worry about genetic engineering and the supposed slippery slope that will lead to creating designer babies. Besides the unconvincing nature of “slippery slope” arguments in general, this criticism is inconsiderate of those people who wish to have their own biological children but are incapable of doing so. For the foreseeable future, genetic engineering will be about curing illnesses, not creating designer babies. We can deal with that issue if and when it arises.
Hardly slippery slope alarmism. More like facts on the ground. For example, in a different context, California already passed legislation allowing a child to have three parents, vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown. I don’t see why that type of proposal would not fit this bill.
Besides, if we have learned anything, biotech very quickly becomes a tool to facilitate lifestyle desires, not just treat medical dysfunction. For example, IVF moved very quickly from allowing infertile married couples to have a baby to a consumerist service used by fertile women to have babies via surrogacy if they don’t want to gestate.
IVF has also become a means of eugenics, for example, couples paying beautiful and brilliant college women for their eggs and embryo selection. I mean is there any doubt that once this is done for women with disease, it will very quickly move on to lifestyle facilitation? Indeed, won’t that eventually become the primary use?
I understand that it is painful not to be able to have a healthy child. But it is even more painful to be a child without a home. Adoption is the answer to such heartbreak–not pushing biotech into the ethical badlands.