Growing up, I had friends and family that had ailments varying from diabetes to muscular dystrophy. Individuals in my life faced various challenges and I was there to support them and appreciate them as individuals despite their ailments. When someone we care for is not well we show our humanity through consolation and support. The prospect of changing a person’s genetic makeup raises many ethical questions regarding parental rights and health issues. Will new technology directed towards mechanically changing an individual’s genetics make the human race less compassionate and place more emphasis on simply “fixing” something that is broken?
According to Daily Mail, the British Parliament must decide to vote on a new bill pertaining to the legal availability of a new form of IVF (in-vitro fertilization) treatment, which uses DNA from three parents (two women and one man), thus making the prospect of genetically modified humans possible. If politicians allow this procedure to proceed, it will be the first law to permit pre-birth human DNA modification. This issue will be debated before July this year.
The Change Within claims that while there are 30 genetically modified babies born in the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration are concerned about whether the donor mother could be considered a co-parent of a child and therefore have as many rights as a mother, even if they are just contributing just 0.1 percent of that child’s DNA. According to The Change Within, two of the babies have been tested and are believed to contain genes from three ‘parents.’ The publication explains that genetic fingerprint testing on one and two-year old children have shown that these children have inherited DNA from three adults: two women and one man.
Meanwhile, according to the Daily Mail, Britain is holding back on the procedure; however, Parliament is expected to vote on whether or not the procedure can be carried out before July, which means the first GM babies could potentially be born in the UK next year. The UK Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority have advised Parliament to approve the use of GM techniques in humans, after looking closely at safety and ethical considerations. Parliament will also debate the issue before July and therefore researchers could potentially recruit the first human couples willing to take part in mitochondrial DNA trials before the end of the year, if the law is passed (Mail Online).
How the procedure is executed and why it is so controversial
This procedure was originally designed to help infertile couples conceive children. Professor Jacques Cohen, the scientist behind the procedure, discovered that women who are infertile had defects in the mitochondria of their egg cells. Mitochondria convert food into essential ingredients that human cells need in order to function. In a critical sense, mitochondria also carry their DNA. Only mothers pass on mitochondrial DNA to their child, which sometimes contains mutations that can lead to epilepsy, diabetes, blindness and other medical problems.
Some scientists believe the controversial GM technique could free individuals from these maladies. Nature reported that it is estimated that one in five thousand to ten thousand women carry mitochondrial DNA with mutations, and some even lead to fatal diseases. “Geneticists fear that one day this method could be used to create new races of humans with extra, desired characteristics such as strength or high intelligence.”
In the procedure, scientists would combine mitochondrial DNA from a donor with the nucleus from a potential mother’s egg so that the infant would not suffer from disorders caused by mutations.
Since mitochondria contain genes, babies resulting from the treatment have inherited DNA from both women. These genes can now be passed down the ‘germline’, which is permanently altered along the maternal line. It forever changes the make-up of our species. Once the children have inherited the extra genes that have been incorporated into their ‘germline’ they will, in turn, be able to pass them on to their own offspring. The mast majority of the world’s scientists do not approve this technique. According to the Daily Mail, other scientists are worried that we do not understand enough to be making such substitutions in genetic information and the research is premature.