Playing God in the past has led to the creation of designer babies to be used as tissue farms for existing children, the creation of cloned human beings for various research projects, sex selection, human/animal hybrid cloning experiments, and the eugenic selection and destruction of “unfit” human embryos. The HFEA uses utilitarian principles of bioethics that are now standard in the international research community which admit of no inherent dignity to the embryonic human being.
Their latest God project is the implantation of donor DNA from a third party into in-vitro embryos to form a germline alteration that involves modification of the person’s mitochondrial DNA (MDNA) to create genetic changes. As in past projects, HFEA cites “broad support” for this procedure and believe that potential benefits far outweigh any risks involved in the procedure.
The procedure in question would destroy two embryos in order to produce a genetically modified third one. And because this is a new technology, there is no way of knowing what the long-term impact will be on the child created through this experimental three-parent technique. The child would be born with the DNA from the father, the mother and the woman who donates (or sells) her egg. This is human experimentation on progeny who are incapable of giving consent.
HFEA has already granted individual researchers licenses to conduct human cloning experiments that would create embryos from three parents. In 2005, they allowed an experiment in which embryos were created from the combined ova of two women with the sperm from a single father, in an attempt to treat mitochondrial genetic diseases.
The Daily mail reports that 30 healthy babies have already been born after a series of experiments in the United States. So far, two of the babies have been tested and were found to contain genes from three parents. Fifteen of the children were born in the past three years to women who had problems conceiving as a result of one experimental programme at the Institute for Reproductive Medicine and Science of St. Barnabas in New Jersey. Genetic fingerprint tests on two one year old children confirmed that they had indeed inherited DNA from three adults – two women and one man.
Ethicists are concerned about the legal implications while Physicians have warned that such rules “risk dehumanising and commodifying relationships between children and their parents. It would be the first time such intentional genetic modifications of children and their descendants were expressly permitted and would open the door to further genetic alterations of human beings with unforeseeable consequences.”
Should the “three-parent” procedure prove effective and become routine, the amount of eggs this procedure would require would be considerable, in addition to the large number of eggs that would be needed to carry out the research needed to get to that point. The risks entailed by getting eggs outside of a woman’s body are present in the short and long-term, as women must undergo injections of powerful hormones to cause the ovaries to produce many eggs in one cycle.
Among the many known risks, the most severe is ovarian hyper-stimulation syndrome (OHSS), which in rare cases causes death. The medical literature indicates that young women are more at risk for developing OHSS, just the target audience for this practice. In addition, there are the risks associated with anesthesia and the surgery necessary to remove the eggs. Longer-term risks, such as the risk of harm to the donors’ own fertility or the risk of later developing cancer, are more unknown because of the lack of long-term follow-up and study of the women.
Marcy Darnovsky, executive director of the California-based Center for Genetics and Society says legalizing such a technique would be way beyond going down the slippery slope. “This one actually throws us off a cliff. Techniques that would create “three-parent babies” cross a crucial and widely observed ethical and social line; safe alternatives exist for the few who would be candidates. “Allowing the manipulation of future generations’ DNA could all too easily lead to a world in which some people – those who could afford expensive reproductive and genetic procedures – would have either real or perceived advantages and could create entirely new kinds of inequality.”
Altering the human germline – in effect tinkering with the very make-up of our species – is a technique shunned by the vast majority of the world’s scientists. Geneticists fear that one day this method could be used to create new races of humans with extra, desired characteristics such as strength or high intelligence.
These proposals ultimately encourage a eugenic attitude and pave the way for the acceptance of genetically engineered children, with all its resultant consequences. Any alterations to the human genome will be permanent, and unexpected genetics problems will be passed down to future generations.
Where do we draw the line?