Notes For The Future File: Three Parent IVF in the UK?

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.

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2 responses to “Notes For The Future File: Three Parent IVF in the UK?

  1. An interesting response/perspective that you and readers here might be interested in reading/considering (food for thought):
    http ://www. cbc-network. org/2011/03/ivf-enough-will-never-be-enough/

    “By Wesley J. Smith, J.D., Special Consultant to the CBC

    UK scientists announced that they will ask the rarely-says-no UK Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) for permission to implant an IVF embryo that is biologically related to three parents (two women and one man). The genetically modified embryo will be created by taking the mitochondrial DNA from a second (destroyed) embryo and replacing it for that of the first. The purpose is to prevent maternally passed genetic diseases. But health is always the justification for opening doors best kept closed. If it succeeds, the technology will not long remain limited to the few and far between. These things rarely do.

    The three-parent child would not be possible without in vitro fertilization (IVF). IVF has unquestionably helped bring great joy to the barren and brought precious children into the world who otherwise would not exist. But that is far from the whole story. It has also unleashed a terrible hubris around human reproduction, mutating it into a form of manufacture, including such staples of industrialization as special orders for style, warehousing, quality control, harvesting natural resources to support the industry, and independent service contractors who facilitate productivity and efficiency.

    The baby manufacturing industry also has an aggressive political lobbying arm, ever on the ready to castigate those who question the wisdom of the current laissez faire system as being cruelly insensitive to the pain of barren families. No wonder cowardly American politicians have yet to muster the true grit to enact even modest regulations.”

    PLEASE read the entire article – it’s worth it:
    http : //www. cbc-network. org/2011/03/ivf-enough-will-never-be-enough/

    • It is an interesting perspective. (And it is not the Canadian Broacasting Company, which is what I always think of when I hear “CBC.”)

      I take it his view is that if you have flawed mitochondrial DNA you should either take your chances or not reproduce. I don’t imagine he thinks you should use a third-party egg, does he? I guess it is also possible that he is skeptical that the technology can be used as described, but I think he probably worries that it can be used and indeed, that opening the door to use of it is the problem.

      I am not about to defend all the ART practitioners in the world. It’s clear to me that there are abuses and that we ought to worry about them. But I think it very unlikely we’re going to get this particular genii back into its bottle, nor am I at all persuaded that we should. I understand that there’s a view that all but natural reproduction (i.e. via sexual intercourse) is bad. I don’t know if that is his perspective or not, but it’s not a view I share.

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