Saturday, April 20, 2024

IN THE CANDID CORNER: Three-parent babies

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We are an impossibility in an impossible universe – Ray Bradbury

Just last week the members of the British House of Commons passed a bill that partially gave the green light for scientists to produce babies from the DNA of three persons. The British law Lords voted 382 to 128 setting the stage for Britain to become the first country in the world to allow for this pioneering work in intro vitro fertilisation technique. However, before the measure can become law, a further vote must be held in the House of Lord.

I remain concerned that the whole concept of the family has undergone major shifts that will one day render it unrecognisable. For those of us who embrace the creation story, the first institution God established way back in the garden of Eden was the family. Its structure was simple. One man, one wife. There was a certain clarity that informed our relationships that “a man should leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife and they shall be one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24) Until we allowed the sociologists and the social psychologists to tamper with the concept of gender, outside of aberrations, we knew beyond a shadow of doubt what it meant to be male and what it meant to be female. In Genesis 1:27 we read: “Male and female created he them.”

God’s original model for the family has been sidelined by man to allow for all kinds of distortions that on their present course will one day see a man marrying his donkey or his horse or even his car. Women in both Britain and the United States are marrying themselves (www.mirror.co.uk) Everything is being pursued under the guise of human rights. So we now talk about sexual orientation, giving individuals the choice to determine their sexuality even if it runs counter to their DNA. What is interesting is that that same man, recognising that his model cannot be “fruitful” or “multiply” or “replenish” the earth, finds himself insisting that he must now have the right to adopt children. As my grandmother would put it: “Man wants to have his cake and eat it too”. So it is now possible for a child to have two parents of the same “gender”. 

So if this three parent babies bill is passed in both houses of the British parliament, a child can now technically have three parents. Those in favour of this technique being legalised argue that it is justified because one in 6 500 babies born in Britain are thought to develop serious mitochondrial disorders which can lead to health issues such as heart and liver disease, respiratory problems, blindness and muscular dystrophy. Problems with the mitochondria, which are dubbed the powerhouse of the cells of the body, are inherited from the mother. A second female with a healthy mitochondria will donate hers, thereby removing the possibility of those hereditary traits being passed on. The new embryo will contain nuclear DNA from the intended father and mother, as well as healthy mitochondrial DNA from the donor embryo, effectively creating “three-parent babies”.

The church in Britain has urged caution, calling for more research as well as for more informed national debate on the issues relative to mitochondrial replacement therapy. The Catholic Church is very concerned about the absence of clinical trials and raised concerns about the destruction of human embryos, which is part of the process. The California-based Center for Genetics and Society argues that the technique will put women and children at risk for severe complications and might set a precedent that experimentation on future generations is an acceptable biomedical fertility development.

Professor Doug Turnbull, who heads the team at New Castle University in Northern England, argues that mitochondrial diseases are not curable and in many families several people are affected. The team’s fact sheet indicates that the mitochondrial donation will not affect essential personality traits, appearance or other elements that go into making us who we uniquely are. The researchers argue that there are 2 500 women of child-bearing age in Britain who are at risk of transmitted unhealthy mitochondria to their children. In the United States the figure is more like 12 400. This equates to 152 births per year in Britain and 778 in the United States. Essentially, according to Dr Doug Turnbull, it is about greater reproductive choices for women (edition.cnn.com).

You remember Dolly, the cloned sheep? Perhaps three generations down the road, we will have five-parent babies or maybe some guru in the field of science will discover that by injecting animal DNA traits into human embryo certain diseases could be prevented. By then both the mitochondrial donor and the animal might claim equal rights to be called “the parent”.

• Matthew Farley is a retired secondary school principal, chairman of the National Forum on Education and a social commentator. Email principal208@gmail.com.

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