Fertility doctors have brought a baby to birth from an embryo created artificially with the biological substances of two women and one man.
That could be illegal in many places, so the American doctors went to Mexico to do the procedure. From the Science story:
Zhang reportedly used an approach called spindle nuclear transfer to create five human embryos. The method involves removing the nucleus—the bulk of a cell’s DNA—from one of the mother’s egg cells, and inserting that nucleus into a donor egg cell stripped of its own nucleus.
The result is an egg with mitochondrial DNA from a healthy donor and nuclear DNA from the mother.
Five donors eggs prepared this way were then fertilized with the husband’s sperm—but only one of the resulting embryos had a normal number of chromosomes. That embryo was transferred into the mother-to-be.
Realize, this child was manufactured using broken eggs and a sperm, resulting mostly in nonviable embryos.
More importantly, what are the potential long-term consequences to this child? We don’t know. Indeed, this child will have to be followed for potential health problems going forward. Even if there is no untoward consequence to the baby–which all should hope–this was unethical human experimentation.
The doctors fled to Mexico to flee regulatory oversight. Yet, “The Scientists” blame the regulators:
Norbert Gleicher, a fertility specialist at the Center for Human Reproduction in New York City, says that the New York team’s decision to work in Mexico is to be expected, given the obstacles to trying such an experimental procedure—or even applying for approval to offer it—in the United States.
Gleicher says he has sought a meeting with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to discuss mitochondrial DNA replacement for U.S. patients, including as a treatment for infertility. “We have not even been able to get an appointment,” he says.
The United Kingdom, as well as a U.S. National Academy of Sciences panel, has given its approval in theory to mitochondrial transfer to prevent disease. In the United States, however, Congress has blocked FDA from allowing any such experimental treatments.
The regulatory situation in the United States “kind of doesn’t make any sense,” Gleicher argues, “because what it results in is exactly what you have been witnessing”—essentially, an experiment that moves “to places with no supervision.”
In other words, let us do what we want or we will do it anyway!
But this is how the biotechnologists roll: Those who circumvent the rules should be shunned, not praised. And they expect us to trust them? No.
Society needs to have an important and in-depth debate over how and whether to permit these nature–and potentially family–altering techniques to go forward, and if so, under what circumstances.
But “The Scientists” instead presume the right to decide for themselves what is ethical in science. There’s a word for that: hubris.