Wednesday, September 28, 2016

This Child Does Have 3 Genetic Parents

Some genetic disorders have their origins in mitochondrial DNA, which is outside the nucleus of an fertilized ovum. Mothers can pass these disorders onto their children. Some affected women therefore screen their embryos before implanting them.  Or they can rely on donor ova from other women who are not affected with the disorders. Any child they have this way will be the child of another woman, genetically speaking.

Researchers now offer another option:  take the nucleus out of that affected zygote and transfer into an unaffected zygote. The mitochondrial DNA will be that of the donor of the ovum, while the rest of the DNA (which is the vast majority of it) will belong to the woman herself. This embryo is then implanted into the woman. Together with the DNA from the genetic father, the resulting child will have 3 parents genetically speaking.

Children already have numerous parents -- socially speaking -- depending on who gives birth to them, who adopts them, who raises them, who move from one step parent to another. Against this background, having three (genetic) parents is not terribly dramatic in itself.

However, the key question here is whether the technique can be routinely safe and effective. If the nuclear transplantation involved here would only exchange one set of risks (from the mitrochondrial DNA) for another (any disorders attached to the procedure), it is hard to see that it would be advantageous.  If the procedure can help protect against unwanted diseases and disorders in children and is no more risky than having a child ordinarily is, then I don't think it's worth too much worry from a moral point of view.

Sure, there will be a variety of legal and social questions to answer, for example, whether the ovum donor has any potential claim on the child.  But these kinds of questions already arise as men and women give birth to children outside marriage, as they change spouses, as they abandon their children, and so on. If multiple parenthood in this context can be sorted out, I see no reason to use the potential questions about nuclear transplantation as reasons never to do it.

For an update on a birth, see:

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