There's new hope for moms who have mitochondrial defects that could potentially cause everything from muscular dystrophy, respiratory problems, blindness, organ failure and stroke in their newborns. A new in vitro fertilization technique, known as mitochondrial transfer procedure, combines the nuclear genes from a mother's egg (that determine traits like hair and eye color) with the mitochondrial genes of a donor woman. When fertilized by the father's sperm, it causes the baby to have three genetic parents—canceling out the defective genes. So if this new procedure can help make healthier babies, why is it so controversial?
A federal committee that advises the Food and Drug Administration listened to two days of hearings about how the procedure could help birth healthy children (referred to as 3-parent babies), but the concern is that it becomes a slippery slope of human gene manipulation. Once you start manipulating genes, things could be taken even further. If you want a baby with blue eyes, red hair, and tan skin, you can have it! Want a taller, smarter, stronger baby? You can make that happen too! Like a sci-fi movie brought to life.
As reported by CNN, medical ethicist Art Caplan said the same technology could be used to modify an embryo to make "super babies," a practice he said amounted to "eugenics."
"The big issue over the next five to 10 years is going to become how far do we go in pursuit of the perfect baby," said Caplan. "Do I think we're going down that road? Yes. Does it creep me out? Yes. Are you going to be able to draw a clear line? I don't think so."
So the question is: Is this amazing new technology that should be embraced, or feared, and how far is too far? Should women with mitochondrial defects be forced to have unhealthy babies, or be forced to adopt or use other women's eggs completely in order to have a healthy child? Or is it ok to use a procedure like this as long as the health of the child is the main objective? But who is to say some people wouldn't think a smarter baby is a healthier baby? A more attractive baby equals a more successful human in the long run (remember the piece I wrote about models and actresses now being the most in-demand egg donors?)? I don't want to deny anyone a healthy baby, but it does beg the question: where do we draw the line?
TELL US: Do you think gene manipulation is a good—or dangerous—thing?
Image of baby and two moms courtesy of Shutterstock.