Dustin Siggins

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As FDA considers allowing three-parent babies, ethicist explains why the method is immoral

Dustin Siggins

WASHINGTON, D.C., February 26, 2014 (LifeSiteNews.com) – On Tuesday, regulators in the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) began a two-day meeting about the possibility of allowing babies to be created from the DNA of three people. The stated goal of this procedure is to prevent major genetic diseases from being passed from mother to child. But the methods involved have been criticized by a pro-life ethicist as "immoral practice[s]."

The field's top U.S. researcher, who presented on Tuesday, said his goal is “to replace these mutated genes, which by nature have become pathogenic to humans.” According to Dr. Shoukhrat Mitalipov, “we're reversing [mutated genes] back to normal, so I don't understand why you would be opposing that."

The issue has raised ethical questions that will be considered at the meeting, including from prominent critics who believe allowing this new form of human creation could lead to so-called “designer babies” in which traits are navigated and customized by parents. 

According to Reverend Tadeusz Pacholczyk, Ph.D., director of education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, there are two different ways this tri-parent process works. The first, three-parent IVF, creates a “human hybrid egg containing the affected mother's genes.” Pacholczyk said that the "resultant human hybrid egg is then fertilized with the father's sperm to complete fertilization and produce a reconstituted human embryo." The procedure “relies on cloning technology.” 

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This method has multiple ethical problems. First, says Pacholczyk, “it would encourage IVF as a means of producing new human life.” Second, “it would introduce a rupture into parenthood, by creating children who inherit genetic material from three parents. It dilutes parenthood by introducing another parent, another woman, into the procreation of the child,” and instead of “'repairing' a defective egg, [doctors will be] constructing a new, different egg.” 

The second method is pronuclear transfer. This starts, says Pacholczyk, “with two separate IVF embryos from three to four parents: a fertilized egg from the affected mother and another from the healthy donor mother. The affected mother's embryo is destroyed when its pronuclei are removed and transferred to the 'partially gutted' and identity-erased enucleated embryo of the donor mother.” 

“This technique is immoral because it involves the direct subjugation and destruction of two human beings who are in their early embryonic stages of growth to create a third human being who is a hybridized construct of cellular parts from each of the two,” insists Pacholczyk. “Similar to the above technique, it relies on the immoral practice of IVF. It is also morally unacceptable because it also introduces a significant fissure in parenthood, relying on the contributions of multiple parents to generate offspring.”

Thus far, the technology has only been used on monkeys. If the FDA approves it, the engineers of the new approach to IVF – from the Oregon Health & Science University – would begin testing humans for the first time. Some concerns have been brought forth regarding breathing and mental problems from some male mice who were tested, though monkeys have not shown the same negative responses.

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