Commentary by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Scientists are revealing that the world’s first baby created from the DNA of three parents, was born in Mexico in April.
The Daily Mail is reporting on the revelation of the now five-month-old baby boy who, along with his parents, remains anonymous. The child was created in a laboratory by scientists using a controversial technique that removes damaged mitochondria from a mother’s eggs and replaces it with healthy mitochondria from a donor egg which is then fertilized by the father’s sperm.
As a result, the child is free of a devastating neurological condition known as Leigh's syndrome which already cost his parents the lives of two children before the age of six.
Leigh’s syndrome is a this severe neurological disorder that attacks the nervous system and gradually inhibits a child’s mental and physical abilities, usually killing them by age three of lung failure.
In the case of the boy’s parents, who are from Jordan, they lost one child at the age of six and another at eight months to the disease.
Tests revealed that the mother carried genes for the disease in her mitochondria.
Desperate for a healthy child, the couple flew to America where they met with Dr. John Zhang from New York City’s New Hope Medical Center.
However, the procedure, known as spindle nuclear transfer, is not legal in the US, which is why Zhang’s medical team performed the technique in Mexico where there are no laws prohibiting this kind of research.
“This is a milestone technique,” Dr. Zhang said. “It proves for the first time that genetic information from three people can avoid disease. We now know reconstitution of human eggs can produce a healthy baby. No other technique has been established.”
During the procedure, five embryos were created for the couple, but only one survived.
“This is just the start,” Dr. Zhang added. “For now, embryologists are focusing on the technique as a way to avoid hereditary diseases that prevent many adults with genetic mutations from having children.”
But down the line, its application could be “unlimited,” he said, and could even be used to alter an unborn child’s DNA to edit their appearance or skill set.
“It's all possible. It just depends how you use the technique,” he said. “This technique is a new platform. How far it can go, I really cannot imagine. But it's totally possible to accomplish [cosmetic editing]. As with any development of new techniques, you always need to bear in mind efficacy and safety. Even with IVF.”
Other scientists are calling for caution. Professor Simon Fishel, founder and president of CARE Fertility Group and professor of Human Reproduction said that although some of these diseases are indeed devastating – and this technology could prevent passing down the genes to children – safety must be our first concern.
“ . . . [A]ny first-time medical procedure moving from successful animal studies to the human, that will take several years until we understand its impact, is a necessary experimental step forward, which we hope and believe should be totally safe and utterly effective,” he said.
Dr. Dusko Ilic of King’s College also feels that some important questions still need to be answered.
“Was this the first time ever they performed the technique or were there other attempts and they are reporting this one because it was successful? This and other important questions remain unanswered because this work has not been published and the rest of the scientific community has been unable to examine it in detail. It's vital that that happens soon,” Dr. Ilic said.
“So it appears to be a good end result. But it risks encouraging others to follow the example, as we saw with 'stem cell tourism'. That could be dangerous as understandably impatient people pursue treatment in the very places where regulation is the least strict.”
In addition to these health concerns, a myriad of ethical issues are raised by any technique that takes the creation of human life out of the natural realm and places it into a petri dish in a laboratory where it could be subject to abuses which do not respect the dignity due to humanity.
It also increases the possibility of one day being able to “cosmetically edit” children – aka designer babies – thereby reducing the creation of human life from an act of loving cooperation with God’s plan to something akin to an arts and craft project.
“The act which brings the child into existence is no longer an act by which two persons give themselves to one another, but one that ‘entrusts the life and identity of the embryo into the power of doctors and biologists and establishes the domination of technology over the origin and destiny of the human person,” the Church teaches.
“Such a relationship of domination is in itself contrary to the dignity and equality that must be common to parents and children.”
Dr. Zhang’s findings will be showcased at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine's Scientific Congress in Salt Lake City next month.
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