This week I had the opportunity to read an article titled, “Three person IVF moves closer in UK,” and because my scholastic background is in Biology and Health Sciences as well as Women’s studies I was obviously intrigued. The article describes how scientists have been making breakthroughs to enable mothers with mitochondrial abnormalities to have the ability to bear healthy biological children through the use of the mitochondria from another women’s egg. The mitochondrion is classically described as the powerhouse of the cell, and is crucial for creating energy for the body’s day to day processes. This type of fertility is considered an advanced form of IVF (In vitro Fertilization), and if successful, the resulting baby would have DNA from three parents (Most of its DNA from two and a small amount from the donor mitochondria from the third).
As I was reading this I couldn’t help but become a bit cautious of the possible ramifications of this type of technology. When science starts experimenting with genetic modification, what’s to stop the creation of designer babies; babies born to certain specifications like a certain eye color or a certain blood type? Thinking about this reminds me of the novel My Sister’s Keeper. In the story, one daughter was born only to save the life of her cancer-ridden sister. What I believe it comes down to is a very, very fine line between helping families conceive biological children who would otherwise not be able to, and modern day eugenics.
I believe that this doesn’t just have ethical implications but implications in a legal sense as well. What if a woman that gave the donor egg wants to try and contest maternity of the child or gain custody? Does this woman have rights to this child that wouldn’t technically be born without her genetic contribution? Will situations like this be discussed and will laws be created before the implementation of this technology?
While reading the article I became aware of the case of Sharon Bernardi, a woman that lost all seven of her children to a rare genetic disease that was caused by a defect in her mitochondria. Now, Sharon is an advocate for the advancement of this technology. Her story is a very sad one, but it is important to mention that, while she found out about her conditions after the birth of her fourth child, she continued to have 3 more children who all bared the same disease.
What interested me most and caught my attention when I originally saw this article was the incredible technological advancements that made this work possible, when only 20 years ago this would have been only a dream (You know, back in the days before we could carry our computers with us 24/7 for those of you reading this blog on your phone). What alarms me about these advancements is that through this genetic modification, scientists would be altering human genetic inheritance; all the offspring of the individual conceived in this way would have to be watched and studied for their entire lives and the lives of their future generations for any signs of malfunctioning or further defects. I don’t know of many people that would like to be watched, studied, picked, and prodded like a science project. Dr. David King, director of the Human Genetics Alert made this statement, “Historians of the future will point to this as the moment when technocrats crossed the crucial line, the decision that led inexorably to the disaster of genetically engineered babies and consumer eugenics. This was the moment at which they casually tossed the bioethical consensus of the last 30 years into the trash. And for what? Not so mothers could avoid having sick babies, because they could do that already, through egg donation. It was so that a few dozen mothers who insisted they must be genetically related to their child could be satisfied.”
I couldn’t help but agree to a certain extent with this statement because, if a couple’s ultimate goal is having a healthy baby they could do that through egg donation. Is it really necessary to be genetically related to your children, and are these couples willing to take the risks if there is a chance something could go horribly wrong? The legal implications are also a cause of concern, and who has the rights to the child in this case? I really want to hear opinions and thoughts on this.
Samantha is a senior at the University of Central Florida.