Three Parents?

The UK’s Nuffield Council on Bioethics has recently approved a controversial fertility treatment requiring three genetic parents:

scientists are hoping to see it used as a therapy to eliminate rare mitochondrial diseases. Mitochondria function as powerpacks that can be found in virtually every human cell, and just like the nucleus, they also contain DNA. Unfortunately, inherited defects in this mitochondrial DNA affects approximately 1 in 5,000 births, leading to severe or even fatal results.

Researchers speculate that a way to overcome this problem is to take two eggs, one from the mother and one from a donor. The nucleus of the donor egg is removed, leaving the mitochondria intact and replaced by the mother’s nucleus. The resulting embryo has properly functioning mitochondria from the donor — resulting in a potentially healthy baby, albeit one with three parents.

This research is in its infancy, and right now is only meant to be used to prevent mitochondrial disease, but it’s not hard to see how further research in this area would be of great interest to poly parents. Using this procedure, the resulting baby would have only .1% of its genetic material from the donor parent, but even so, having just a bit of a child’s genetic material be from them could mean the world to some parents.

Predictably, the procedure is already getting pushback from natural-law advocates:

“Just as Frankenstein’s creation was produced by sticking together bits from many different bodies, it seems that there is no grotesquerie, no violation of the norms of nature or human culture at which scientists and their bioethical helpers will balk.

“The proposed techniques are both unnecessary, and highly dangerous in the medium term, since they set a precedent for allowing the creation of genetically modified designer babies.”

He argued that such techniques would affect many generations and crossed “what is normally considered the most important ethical line in the prevention of a new eugenics” and this was “precisely how slippery slopes get created”.

The fact that arguments like this are taken seriously is the likely reason why we won’t see this sort of procedure available to three-parent households in anything resembling the near future. Still, as a member of a poly V, and one which intends on raising children together, this is certainly an interesting development.

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2 responses to “Three Parents?

  1. I’m assuming, based on my very limited knowledge, that the mitochondrial DNA doesn’t contribute to looks and personality, and that therefore the third parent’s genetic contribution would be all about the idea of it, rather than having visible effects. I’m a little curious how this would impact people’s feelings about it… would the mitochondrial parent still feel an increased connection to the child, just based on the knowledge that a tiny bit of their DNA is in there somewhere? I don’t think it would make a significant difference to me, but I’m curious how others feel.

  2. I wonder if those criticizing this procedure would have a problem with a heart transplant later on in life.

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