Creating a baby with three genetic parents: is it ethical?

Recently scientists reported that the first baby has been born from a controversial technique, which combines genes from three parents: the dad, the mom, and an egg donor.

This “three-parent babies” technique uses gene replacement to prevent inherited diseases. Such diseases can cause serious problems including blindness, stroke-like episodes, deafness, and death in newborns.

To prevent the diseases, a man contributes nuclear DNA (sperm A), a woman contributes nuclear DNA (egg B), and another woman contributes healthy mtDNA (egg C). The healthy mtDNA donor only contributes less than 0.1% to the genetic make-up of the baby.

Although the technique can save babies’ lives, whether it is ethical is still controversial.

In a paper recently published in Reproduce BioMedicine Online, a researcher discusses the harms to the egg donor, future generations, and society.

First, drug-induced egg production and retrieval can take 56 hours of work, including interviews, counseling, screening, hormonal stimulation and egg retrieval. The daily hormone injection can be uncomfortable and painful, and cause lots of side effects.

In addition, the donor may gain weight rapidly, have breath difficulty, and have damage to bladder, bowel and uterus. She may also feel stressed.

Second, the technique is still experimental and there is very limited information about safety and efficacy. The health and wellbeing of future children are not guaranteed.

Moreover, new harm may be introduced, and some of which may not manifest for many years.

Third, although the technique is for therapy, it can be used for other purposes. For example, people can use it to change the human species for enhancement goals.

In addition, from a global health perspective, there is little justification for the big cost of time, talent and money into research on this when there are much greater reproductive health needs in women in both developed and developing countries.

The researcher suggests that while it is the norm to review and fund research on the basis of scientific excellence, people also need to consider social significance.

Citation: Baylis F. (2013). The ethics of creating children with three genetic parents. Reproductive BioMedicine Online, 26: 531-534. doi:
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