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UK university granted first license to make three-parent embryos

Claire Chretien Claire Chretien Follow Claire

TYNE, England, March 17, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – The United Kingdom's Human Fertilisation and Embryo Authority has granted Newcastle University permission to begin creating human embryos who have three parents.

The chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryo Authority, Sally Cheshire, confirmed Thursday that "the HFEA has approved the first application by Newcastle Fertility at Life for the use of mitochondrial donation to treat patients." 

The UK first approved three-parent embryos in 2015. This will be the first time scientists will carry out the procedure, which involves killing human embryos to manufacture another. 

The purpose of creating embryos this way is to attempt to modify them to not have certain genetic diseases. But bioethicists say this technique involves a multitude of ethical and moral problems.

The embryos will have DNA from two mothers and one father, Dr. David A. Prentice, vice president and director of research at the Charlotte Lozier Institute, told LifeSiteNews. A small part of the mother's DNA will be replaced with DNA from another woman. This is done in the hopes of preventing the main mother (for lack of a better phrase) from transferring genetic diseases to the child.

"The type of technique they’re using actually involves destroying two embryos to then re-combine [their] parts for a third constructed embryo with genetics from two women and one man," said Prentice. "This technique starts with death of young human embryos."

"Making 3-parent embryos involves the use of cloning technologies," the National Catholic Bioethics Center's Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk, Ph.D, told LifeSiteNews via email. 

"Cloning involves swapping out the nucleus of a woman’s egg with a replacement nucleus to create an embryo," explained Pacholczyk. The way three-parent embryos are made is "by swapping out additional cellular parts known as mitochondria through the recombination of eggs from two different women."

Even worse, some "approaches to making three-parent embryos rely on destroying one embryo (instead of an egg) and cannibalizing its parts so as to build another embryo by nuclear transfer. This latter approach, therefore, requires an 'embryocide' or embryo-killing step as part of the process," he explained.

"Pro-nuclei are formed when the egg and sperm first meet," said Prentice. "And so in this technique, they’re taking two brand new embryos, pulling the nucleus then out of one, thereby killing that first embryo."

Then, "they pull the nucleus out of the second one, killing it, and they recombine the nucleus from one with the cellular mass from the second – to get a third recombined embryo," said Prentice. This means "you had to kill two embryos in the process [of] a nuclear transfer cloning type of technology."

The created embryos will spend the first three to five days of their lives in a lab dish before being transferred to the womb.

'Manufacturing new human beings' as 'experiments'

Prentice and Pacholczyk say that creating three-parent embryos will be problematic for children's rights and older people who have the genetic diseases scientists are attempting to weed out.

"They are literally using human beings – creating human beings – as experiments," said Prentice. "It’s not experimenting on human beings where you might be doing something to them. They are the experiment. They’re the creation. And because [scientists] don’t know what might happen eventually down the road, these little ones that are gonna be created will have to be followed the rest of their lives. And their children will have to be monitored as well."

"Any approach that weakens or casts into question the integral connection between parents and their offspring will raise grave ethical concerns," said Pacholczyk. "By creating three-parent embryos, we improperly subject children to the harmful psychological stressors that arise when they face uncertainties about their own origins and beginnings."

Pacholczyk noted, "Far too often, in the world of infertility treatments, the needs of children are bypassed in the pursuit of satisfying parental desires." He said it would be unfair to a child that he or she would need to do "research" to figure out his or her origins. 

Children would be "trying to determine who contributed which sub-cellular building blocks as they were 'put together' with components from 3 parents by fertility specialists or lab technicians," said Pacholczyk.

"By taking this approach, we substitute production for procreation, even though our children are absolutely entitled to the dignity of being 'loved into being' in the marital embrace, not custom-ordered from, or 'mass-produced' by, fertility clinics and research laboratories," said Pacholczyk.

Prentice shared Pacholczyk's concerns about "family structure and family identity" in these children who will have three biological parents. 

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Some people will say the amount of DNA from one of the created child's mothers "is very small" and therefore inconsequential, Prentice predicted. "But we know" that this part of the DNA "has some effect on life and health or else they wouldn’t be trying to replace it and supplement it," he said.

Prentice also said the mindset behind the creation of three-parent embryos is eugenic. 

"This is not aimed at treating or curing anyone with these [genetic] diseases," he said. Rather, it's the creation of "essentially replacement people – manufacturing new human beings that they hope won’t have that disease and ignoring essentially all the people who do have the problem."

"They are manufacturing new human beings that they hope will not carry on this particular set of genetic diseases," said Prentice. "But even the experimental evidence in animals and in the laboratory indicate this still may not work."

Creating three-parent embryos means "ignoring ethical venues to treat people who have these [genetic] diseases," said Prentice. "They’re essentially telling the people that have these diseases that they are of no value, that they should be replaced by these manufactured human beings. It’s a sad commentary on where this particular medical science has gone."

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