Is it ethical to make three-parent babies?Sep 2, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 48 • By BRENDAN P. FOHT
The decision by the British government earlier this summer to approve a suite of new technologies that would make possible the creation of human embryos with three genetic parents has brought a long-simmering and seemingly obscure bioethical debate into the public eye, raising questions not only about the future of human reproductive technologies but also about some practices that have been with us for decades.
The British decision followed recommendations from the country’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority in March of this year and a major bioethics report cautiously endorsing the techniques last year. The debate has muddied the lines between left and right. Liberal groups like the Center for Genetics and Society strongly oppose the new technologies, while some liberal bioethicists like Arthur Caplan have said the new techniques are “worth the ethical risk.” Conservative bioethics commentator Wesley J. Smith, a frequent contributor to these pages, has argued that the new technologies are unethical, while the editors of Real Clear Science, who are scourges of the “antiscientific left,” have endorsed the new technologies.
The techniques in question involve transplanting the chromosomes from a single-cell embryo or from an unfertilized egg into a donor egg or embryo from which the chromosomes have been removed. These procedures were developed with a therapeutic intention: They would allow women with mitochondrial disorders to have children who will not inherit those disorders. (Mutations in the mitochondrial DNA can cause a host of serious illnesses.) Unlike in egg or embryo donation, which are methods widely used at in vitro fertilization clinics and would prevent the transmission of these disorders, the children created through the new techniques would be genetically related to the women undergoing the procedure, having inherited her nuclear DNA but not her mitochondrial DNA. What has been most controversial about these techniques is that they would create embryos with three genetic parents: The embryos would inherit chromosomes from one mother and one father, but would also inherit mitochondrial DNA (which contains a small number of additional genes) from the donated embryo or egg cell.
Before focusing on the three-parent issue, let us first look at other objections that have been raised. As Alex Berezow of Real Clear Science notes, some critics “worry about the ethics of destroying embryos,” since one of the new techniques involves the destruction of embryos. But he dismisses this concern by pointing out that “standard IVF also destroys embryos,” which is, unfortunately, all too often true, though this new way of making babies would destroy embryos in a different way from the usual practice of IVF.
The new embryo-destructive technique, known as “pronuclear transfer,” involves an early-stage embryo—one in which the chromosomes from the egg and sperm have not yet joined together in a single nucleus. The pronuclei are extracted, destroying that embryo. The extracted genetic material is then transferred into another, similarly enucleated (and thus destroyed) embryo, but one that was created using a donated egg, thereby creating a new embryo that contains the chromosomes of the man and woman who intend to become parents, as well as the mitochondrial DNA of the egg donor. The destruction of embryos in ordinary IVF results from the discarding of “excess” embryos, or of embryos deemed genetically defective following screening tests. This new technique would be the first assisted-reproductive technology involving the deliberate destruction of human embryos as a necessary part of the procedure.
Berezow is of course correct that countless human embryos are destroyed on a regular basis as a result of the way IVF is practiced in the United States today. That might also lead us to ask whether we have been right to tolerate the cavalier destruction of embryos as just part of the way the U.S. IVF industry does business. Indeed, ordinary IVF could be practiced in a way that would not result in the destruction of human embryos; in Germany, for instance, it is illegal to create “excess” embryos during IVF treatments.
Another objection to these new techniques relates to the risks they will pose to the created children. While there have been a few preliminary studies, the risks are still poorly understood. Against these critics, Berezow writes that “a mother with a mito-chondrial disease who wishes to have her own children may very well choose to accept the risk.” Indeed she may, but the child born through this experimental procedure is obviously in no position to accept the risk.
It’s here. Don’t get used to it. May 27, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 35 • By WESLEY J. SMITH
Human cloning is finally here, and it is going to spark a political conflagration. First, some background.
Two cases of European doctors refusing to treat their patients are cause for concern: Futile Care Theory may be coming to America. 11:00 PM, Mar 10, 2004 • By WESLEY J. SMITH
A LITTLE NOTICED LITIGATION in the United Kingdom could be a harbinger of medical woes to come here in the United States. Leslie Burke, age 44, is suing for the right to stay alive. Yes, you read right: Burke, who has a terminal neurological disease, is deathly afraid that doctors will refuse to provide him wanted food and water when his condition deteriorates to the point that has to receive nourishment through a feeding tube.
With a dishonest bill pending, Delaware looks to join New Jersey as a haven for human cloning.11:45 AM, Jan 16, 2004 • By WESLEY J. SMITH
CLONING ADVOCATES are playing a shell game with the American people. At the federal level, they advocate the legalization of human cloning but assert that cloned embryos should be destroyed after 14 days of development and never implanted in wombs (the Hatch / Feinstein Bill). But this is a diversionary political tactic. Hatch / Feinstein's true purpose is to prevent passage of a total federal ban on cloning by human somatic nuclear cell transfer (SCNT), the Brownback / Landrieu bill.
Dec 22, 2003, Vol. 9, No. 15 • By CHRISTINE ROSEN
Whose View of Life?
Embryos, Cloning, and Stem Cells
by Jane Maienschein
Harvard University Press, 368 pp., $27.95
THIS OUGHT TO BE a welcome contribution to contemporary bioethical debates--a book, written by a well-regarded historian of science and published by a prestigious academic press, that engages the history of embryo research, stem cell research, and cloning, while promising to tackle the contentious issue of when life begins.
New Jersey Assembly Bill 2840 looks to be the most radical human cloning measure ever put into law. It should be stopped.11:50 AM, Dec 11, 2003 • By WESLEY J. SMITH
USING "embryonic stem cell research" (ESCR) as a Trojan Horse, the authors of New Jersey Assembly Bill 2840 are trying to sneak one of the most radical human cloning legalization schemes ever proposed into law. How radical is A-2840? If the bill passes, it will be legal in New Jersey to implant cloned human embryos into wombs, gestate them for up to nine months, and then destroy them for use in research.
Terri Schiavo's guardian ad litem files his report; there's bad news and good news.11:00 PM, Dec 3, 2003 • By WESLEY J. SMITH
THERE IS A BULL ELEPHANT in the living room of the Terri Schiavo case that many adamantly refuse to see. Terri's husband Michael Schiavo has fallen in love with another woman. He has lived with his "fiancé" now for many years. The couple has been blessed with two children together. By any reasonable standard of judgment, falling in love with, committing to, and siring children by another woman estranges a husband from his wife. Indeed, in a divorce case, these facts would undoubtedly be construed as actions amounting to legal abandonment.
The mainstream media is ignoring promising news about adult stem cell research.11:00 PM, Dec 2, 2003 • By WESLEY J. SMITH
MEDIA BIAS is alive and well and busily promoting the brave new world. I personally experienced the phenomenon recently when I participated in an educational symposium in Frankfort, Kentucky (along with Drs. David Prentice and John Hubert). Our purpose was to provide empirical and moral support for pending state legislation that would outlaw human cloning in Kentucky. (Similar laws have already passed in Michigan, Iowa, North Dakota, and Arkansas.)
The Florida state legislature steps in to save a woman whose husband is trying to kill her.11:40 AM, Oct 21, 2003 • By WESLEY J. SMITH
WHEN TERRI SCHIAVO collapsed in 1990, causes unknown, she could have had no idea that 13 years later people the world over would know her name and care very much about whether she lived or died. Yet what began as a private tragedy--a vivacious young woman stricken in the very prime of her life with a brain injury that left her profoundly disabled--has become a story heard round the world.
Oct 27, 2003, Vol. 9, No. 07 • By J. BOTTUM, FOR THE EDITORS
YOU KNOW THE STORY. The frog in a saucepan on the stove will die--because the temperature creeps up so smoothly and stealthily that he's never given the clue that now is the time to hop out. And so he boils to death, for if the rise from 70 degrees to 71 degrees didn't make him jump, why should the rise from 150 to 151?
We've never entirely believed the story--or its allegorical applications. Surely the frog will jump, and people, too, before the water gets too hot.
The horrifying case of Terri Schiavo, and what it portends.Oct 20, 2003, Vol. 9, No. 06 • By WESLEY J. SMITH
AT 2:00 P.M. on October 15, 2003, Terri Schiavo's feeding tube is to be removed, after which she will slowly dehydrate to death. This is to be done at the request of her husband, Michael Schiavo, and at the order of Judge George W. Greer of the Sixth Judicial Circuit, in Clearwater, Florida. If the order is carried out, Terri will die over a period of 10 to 14 days.
The Schiavo case is only the most recent "food and fluids" case to make national headlines, after Nancy Cruzan (Missouri), Michael Martin (Michigan), and Robert Wendland (California).
The false promise of experimental cloning.Oct 6, 2003, Vol. 9, No. 04 • By WESLEY J. SMITH
POLLS SHOW that most Americans want to ban all human cloning. President Bush is eager to sign such a measure into law. The House has twice enacted a strong legal prohibition with wide, bipartisan votes.
Bill McKibben's useful assault on the unfettered biogenetic project.Jun 9, 2003, Vol. 8, No. 38 • By WESLEY J. SMITH
Staying Human in an Engineered Age
by Bill McKibben