Three-Parent Babies: Prevention or a Slippery Slope?

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Lifestyle Staff Writer | Emma McCallister | em542612@ohio.edu

McCallister_Three-parent Babies
The law was passed with a vote of 382 MPs in favor and 128 against. Photo via Vita.it

In 2014, the United Kingdom estimated that within two years, three-parent babies would be possible. A year ahead of schedule, the law has been passed to make it so.

The goal of the law is to prevent babies from being born with deadly mitochondrial diseases. According to BBC News, “One in every 6,500 babies are born with severe mitochondrial disease which means they have insufficient energy to function – it leads to muscle weakness, blindness, heart failure and even death.” Mitochondrial diseases are carried in the genes of the mother. With the passing of the law this will be preventable when a donor with healthy mitochondria gives another egg in addition to the egg and sperm of the parents. There are two methods in which detrimental genetic material will be removed from the mother’s egg and will then be replaced with the healthy material from the donor – thus creating a three-parent baby.

Ministers during the debate were quoted as saying that the technique is a “light at the end of the tunnel,” for many families. An additional vote is required by the House of Lords but if everything continues as planned, the first 3-parent baby could be born as soon as next year. Estimates say that up to 150 three-parent babies could be born in a single year.

Many individuals are pleased with the passing of the law. Professor Doug Turnbull of Newcastle University, who led the team that designed the technique stated, “This is important and something the UK should rightly be proud of.” However, the team also noted that mitochondrial diseases cannot be cured and often times several people in a family are affected.

According to James Gallagher, health editor of the BBC News website, “This is a hugely significant moment for the families involved and society as a whole. The UK is about to become the first country to introduce laws to allow the creation of babies with DNA from three people. For the families affected by mitochondrial disease, this is the only option for a healthy child.” Gallagher went on to say that three-parent babies do have some implications and it is worrisome for the future as people argue it is a slippery slope that could lead to further genetic modification of children.

The Church of England’s national adviser on medical issues, the Rev. Dr. Brendan McCarthy stated that the technique was permissible if it was utilized to alleviate suffering and the embryos are treated with respect. However, The Church of England’s stance remains that there should be further scientific testing and ethical debate before the law was passed. Additionally, the Center for Genetics and Society based in Berkeley, California, wrote in an open letter to the UK that the goal of the law was noble. However, “the techniques will, in fact, put women and children at risk for severe complications, divert resources from promising alternatives and treatments, and set a policy precedent that experimentation on future generations is an acceptable biomedical/fertility development.”

Parliament Member Fiona Bruce also acknowledged the effects that could follow the introduction of the three-parent baby. “[This] will be passed down generations, the implications of this simply cannot be predicted. But one thing is for sure, once this alteration has taken place, as someone has said, once the gene is out of the bottle, once these procedures that we’re asked to authorize today go ahead, there will be no going back for society.”

While a three-parent baby may be a great medical advance, it does not come without concern. Not only does the procedure itself cause concern for safety, there is also great concern for what this could mean for future generations and reproduction. Human Genetics Alert said that the law could lead to designer babies – modified for beauty, intelligence and to be disease free. However, according to Prime Minister David Cameron, “We’re not playing god here, we’re just making sure that two parents who want a healthy baby can have one.”

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