Three’s a Crowd

by Theresa Spranger, Bioethics Program Alumna (MSBioethics 2012)

There is a new IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) procedure being developed in the United Kingdom.  The procedure aims to prevent diseases of the Mitochonidria.  These include certain types of Muscular Dystrophy that are genetically passed down from the mother.  This procedure would introduce DNA from a third parent by the transfer of the nucleolus from a donor egg.   99.8% of the genes of the resulting child would be from the biological mother and father.  Approximately 0.2% would come from the donor woman’s egg.  This would result in the child having 3 biological parents.

The whole idea is an interesting one and it’s a noble goal to want to protect these children from Mitochondrial disease.  However, I think it’s a “slippery slope.”  Yes, yes, there it is…the standard conservative argument for everything.  I hate making it as much as you probably hate reading it, but I think it applies in this case.

When you talk about genetically modifying humans (which is what we are talking about here), you open some very scary doors.  If a person’s genetics can be modified to correct a genetic disease at conception, could they be modified to ensure the child will be tall?  Or, to ensure she will have blue eyes?  The potential is “designer children,” or children whose genetic makeup has been specifically chosen.

I can already hear some of you out there: “That will never happen.”  “No one is going to pay that kind of money to pick out their child’s eye color.”  And so on, and so on.

For those who are skeptical of the idea, please allow me to give you an example of who this technique could be marketed to:

Kim Kardashian – a woman with more money than brains, whose maternal instinct didn’t stop her from naming her daughter North West.  Could you honestly tell me that someone like Ms. Kardashian wouldn’t want to create her “perfect” child?  Or, that no company would allow her to do this for the right price?

There is an epidemic in our society right now of “trophy babies.”  Some parents have babies and forget that they are tiny people.  That those children need to be nurtured and taught, and that one day they are going to need to be functional adults.  I think the ability to have “designer children,” would only make this trend worse.  It would allow those with enough money to choose qualities in their child like a little girl picks a doll from the American Girl store.  I don’t think this would be good for the child or society.

What if the “designer baby” trend then really took off?  What would society look like?  Naturally, there would be the haves and the have-nots.  People who could afford it would select for: intelligence, athleticism, beauty, etc., and the gap would widen between socioeconomic classes in our country.

As much as I would love to see a cure for mitochondrial diseases, any time we manipulate a person’s genes we are playing with fire.

[This blog entry was originally posted in a slightly edited form on Ms. Spranger’s blog on September 17, 2013. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the author alone and do not represent the views of the Bioethics Program or Union Graduate College.]

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