Does Three Parent IVF Go Too Far?

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?

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5 thoughts on “Does Three Parent IVF Go Too Far?

  1. It goes far too far. We have to grow up as a society and accept that sometimes life denies us our desires. Children are not something we have a right to and the world already has too many people.

    Infertility, genetic conditions etc are not a new thing, and once upon a time we had a society mature enough to deal with these issues. What’s happened?

    With each technological advance in medicine our collective maturity and ability to deal with emotional situations is declining.

    1. Lorna, I like your take. I know a number of couples who tried to get pregnant for awhile, it just didn’t happened so they chalked it up to maybe it is not what supposed to happen and opened themselves to the idea of not having their own or not having the experience of parenthood together. Instead they found other things to create for the good of the world~L

  2. Hi there,

    It definetly goes way too far. Not being able to have children is not a disease nor an affliction. In animal kingdom, nature prevent some individuals to procreate to maintain the population of a given ecosytem at a viable level. AS you mention, this does not seem to be the case of human beings on Earth

    While I may agree that one may try hormones to increases chances of natural conception, relying on third party people or hi tech genetics and labs seem over the top. Moreover, it is more than selfish. If you want a kid, you can very well adopt. Millions of kids are miserable, hungry and without parents in this world. The cost of a single IVF could easily feed hundreds of starving kids for months (isn’t what UNESCO annoucment keep telling us?).
    They would reply that adoption is a long hard road with uncertain success….but so is IVF

    Deep down, I feel that it is just plain vanity..PArents want to spred THEIR genetic material.

  3. I’m going to have to disagree with Klem’s point of view on this, and many other’s as well. “Nature” has no forethought. It doesn’t say, “Too many deer, make some infertile.” Given the opportunity, every living thing on this planet would procreate as much as possible without regard for others, even those of its own species. Any system in which members choose not to procreate (like eusocial insects and some birds) have evolved over time, because that system proved to be the best time after time in whatever environment they are currently in. If bees lived in a predator free world with limitless resources, I’m sure their eusocial behavior would dissolve, no longer being favored. Humanity does have a carrying capacity, and we passed it a few billion people ago. The crash is going to come eventually.

    As an evolutionary biologist myself, I absolutely understand why people go to the lengths they go to in order to have their own “biological” children. I recommend Dawkin’s “The Selfish Gene” to everyone (there’s nothing more surreal than the realization you are just a machine built by little bits of DNA that use you to replicate themselves). So, I don’t think 3 parent IVF is much worse than normal IVF (considering the ratio of nuclear DNA compared to mitochondrial, I don’t know who thinks contributing about 17,000 basepairs of mitochondrial DNA counts for anything).

    I do see the danger in “designer babies” and gender selection, but I see the good as well. As a geneticist, I can tell you right now that we are a LONG way off from “designer babies.” But, I’m sure as we get closer to it’s possibilities, we can impose laws that prevent the misuse of such technology.

    In the end, I just say we who choose to be childfree do it because we just don’t have the urge to have kids. Maybe humanity is evolving into a more eusocial species? Hard to say.

    1. Kathleen~Interesting and informative–thank you. Question for you–as an evolutionary biologist, how do you understand the desire not to reproduce? I am curious about your thinking on this. ~L

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