The possibility of a three-parent embryo is up for debate by a US advisory board, thanks to recent scientific advancements that allow scientists to draw DNA from three different parents to create an embryo. Scientists are claiming that it could eliminate genetic illnesses such as muscular dystrophy; however, detractors of the procedure say it will only lead to parents trying to create designer babies.
The procedure calls for DNA from two women and one man. The eggs from the women would be combined in such a way as to eliminate genetic disorders in the women’s egg and then the now healthy egg would then be fertilized with the man’s sperm. Thus far, the procedure has only been done on monkey embryos, but the panel, which gives the US Food and Drug Administration independent advice, is currently debating about whether the procedure is safe to conduct on human embryos.
Chairman Evan Snyder suggested that perhaps the time is not ripe for experimentation on human embryos, and that the fate of these unborn children should be heavily considered prior to pursuing any further efforts in the three-parent baby race. Michelle Huckaby-Lewis of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics and the Genetics and Public Policy Center in Washington, DC says while there are many benefits to pursuing technology such as this, there are also serious ethical questions that arise.
The procedure definitely raises ethical debate about what truly constitutes a family; in addition, while the recombined eggs may be healthy right now, over generations, there could be genetic ramifications that have yet to be considered. Associate scientist Shoukhrat Mitalipov from Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) prompted the current debate that is occurring about the three-parent embryos; he says he does not understand why there would be opposition to the idea of making defective genetic material healthy again.
Currently, 1 in 5,000 children inherit defective genetic material from their mother, resulting in serious genetic illnesses such as muscular dystrophy. Nearly all of the maternal mitochondria, the tiny energizers of any cell, are passed on to the embryo, which means that any defective genetic material will have come from the mother. In removing the defective genetic material from the female cell through combining two female cells together and deliberately removing any defective genetics that remain within, Mitalipov says that science is essentially fixing any health defects. The US advisory board that is debating the situation does not see it quite that clearly.
In 2001, American scientists carried out successful three-parent fertilization experiments, resulting in the birth of around 20 children. At the time, however, the Food and Drug Administration asked that the experimental process be stopped on humans. This is the first instance of fertilization procedures of this sort since then.
The three-parent embryos now debated by a US advisory board will definitely have an impact on how the creation of a family is viewed, as well as create some questions about what, exactly, each parent’s rights are when it comes to this newborn child. While the panel is debating the issue currently, there has been no vote taken on the matter.
By Christina St-Jean