On Tuesday, the 3rd of February 2015, MPs in the UK passed a Bill which, if ratified, will make legal the creation of babies with genetic material from three parents in vitro. The medical objective is to enable people to have children free from some horrendous inherited conditions, which is extremely commendable! However, there are some worrying implications here for the pro life movement and many (religious and secular) organisations have voiced concerns (e.g. SPUC, Catholic Church). To properly engage in this debate, we really need to understand scientific and ethical arguments, which are a lot more complicated than they first appear. This post aims to explore some of these issues and explain why said pro life organisations have come to the conclusion that we should oppose this concept.
As has been eluded to recently in this blog, some people's pro life beliefs come hand in hand with religious beliefs, others don't. I've tried to use both secular and religious thinking and ethics in this article.
Well, firstly, the IVF procedure itself that follows leads to creation of embryos that will be discarded, which is why many pro life groups are actually opposed to IVF methods already used.
Another argument is very easy to explain using religious reasoning. For a Catholic (and many other religious people), human life is sacred from natural conception until natural death. This creation of an artificial ovum makes that conception unnatural. It doesn't come from a father and mother, yet a father and two mothers. It is at odds with the view of marriage being 'between a man and a woman open to children'.
Scientifically, however, there are also reasons to oppose this. The reason for the procedure in the first place is to give the child alternative mitochondria to their mother. Mitochondria are the power stations of a cell. They essentially create energy from food and oxygen. They are complex 'organelles' and, as such, have their own DNA that they need to create more of themselves. The way sexual fertilisation works means that all mitochondria come from the mother, so all mitochondrial DNA does also, and this is where the third parent comes in. It is a very small amount of DNA, but it still contributes to the makeup of every cell in your body, and it is unclear what traits the mitochondrial DNA would present. In that sense, there is a definite third biological parent, which has implications ethically and, potentially, legally regarding parental statuses when the child is born. There are also doubts about the safety of the procedure, with significant medical professionals voicing concerns about implications on the health of the child.
At best, the legislation needs a lot more scrutiny and debate (which there was very little). However, I just think that it’s another example of where we’re overstepping the mark scientifically. Just because we know how to do something and have the technology available, that doesn’t mean that it’s right to do it.