Scientists at Newcastle University have developed a new cloning technique called “three parent invitro fertilization (IVF).” It involves fixing malfunctioning mitochondrial DNA during the IVF fertilization process. How this works is rather amazing yet concerning. Mitochondria are the “batteries” of cells, and when there is something wrong with this DNA it can lead to heart problems, brain disorders, and blindness. About one in 6,500 children are born with diseases related to malfunctioning mitochondrial DNA.
The faulty mitochondrial DNA is swapped out for good DNA from a donor egg, so the resulting embryo inherits genes from both its parents, and mitochondrial DNA from a second “mother” who donated the healthy egg. So you could say the child will technically end up with genes from three people, or have three parents.
While preventing disease is a good thing, and this technique seems to do it from literally the beginning, this cloning technique is a variation of what scientists did when they cloned the infamous Dolly, the first cloned sheep. If 3- way IVF cloning is allowed to be used, this question is not far behind: Will we see the day when we can not only have babies be born with no chance of disease, but with the physical attributes we want them to have? The brain we want them to have?
In other words, how far we will go into the world of “designer babies?” In all likelihood designer babies are a ways off, but the thought remains unnerving.
On other fronts of concern, Joan Smith of the Independent makes great points; she says the idea of designer babies “worries me less than the flawed rationale behind fertility treatment, not to mention the industry’s cavalier disregard of its role in adding more children to our overcrowded world.”
The push for IVF in the first place needs a better look. The flawed rationales behind promoting fertility treatment include–if you are childless your life will never be “complete,” somehow you are a “failure” if you can’t have a baby, and are seen negatively in you choose to remain childless. Children are not what make everyone’s life complete, you are certainly not a failure because you can’t biologically have one with your partner, and a life that does not include parenthood can be just as fulfilling as a life that includes this experience.
Promoting pregnancy at all costs is also not the best thing for a world that is increasing in population to the point of unsustainability (or some experts believe we have already passed this point) even without the help of IVF. More people need to look harder at why they want IVF in the first place. Why do they want their own biological child so badly? What is the experience they want through biological parenthood, and is biological parenthood the only way to get this experience?
As scientists will undoubtedly continue to refine cloning, if more would-be parents could take a hard look at the myths about pregnancy and parenthood and why they have to have their own children to begin with, the world and the children already here just might end up better off.
What do you think?