While there’s a discussion about the future of ART I thought I’d add this news note. The HFEA (which has apparently survived the bonfire of the quangos thus far) has been asked to assess three-person IVF.
The idea here, which is one I discussed a couple of years or so ago, is to avoid difficulties created by defective mitochondrial DNA. To do this you’d start with the egg and sperm and create a fertilized egg. That part is conventional IVF. But if the mitochondrial DNA of that original egg were flawed (and the article notes possible birth defects that could result from this type of flaw) you’d avoid those flaws by moving the newly created nucleus of the fertilized to a different egg (from a third person) where the mitochondrial DNA didn’t have that flaw. The resulting embryo carries DNA from all three people, although the genetic contribution from mitochondrial DNA is more limited than that from the egg and sperm.
While this is a technique used in cloning, the proposed use being studied here isn’t cloning at all. It does, however, create children with genetic links to three different people–two women and one man.
This might be reminiscent of the arrival of IVF on the scene. Before IVF a woman who gave birth was also the source of the egg used in conception. Thus, there was no need to decide the relative importance of those contributions to the constitution of parenthood. But IVF separated those two functions and created a host of questions.
In the same way, until now the person who provided the mitochondrial DNA has always been a person who provided the nuclear DNA as well. Thus, there’s been no need to assess the relative importance of those two contributions. If it is possible to separate those contributions–and it seems likely that it will be–we’ll need to do that assessment. For those (like me) who place less stock in the legal significance of genetic linkage, this isn’t a big deal. But for people who put a lot of weight on the genetic link, it’s another layer of complexity.
It’s also possible that this will raise the specter of eugenics for some people. The reason do use this procedure is to pick some genetic traits (healthy ones) over others. If this is a form of eugenics, it is one that doesn’t bother me as such. But I can see that for some this might create controversy on that ground, too.