Fertility technique that yields 'three-parent children' would exploit women, commoditize babies, warns bioethicists

United Kingdom's fertility regulator legalized the use of mitochondrial replacement therapy that could yield three-parent babies. | Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

United Kingdom's fertility regulator approved an in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedure that allows the conception of a baby using the DNA of three parents, and the first baby coming from this technique could be born next year. While many deem the development an important milestone in science, there are also those who criticize it, claiming that the practice would exploit women and commoditize children.

In a statement released last week, the U.K. Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority said that it was legalizing the use of mitochondrial donation "in certain and specific cases." The decision came after an independent panel of experts recommended that the procedure can be used in cases wherein other treatments are ineffective in reducing the risk of the mother passing a mitochondrial disease to the baby.

Also, called mitochondrial replacement therapy (MRT), the procedure allows a donor's egg that has healthy mitochondria to host the nucleus extracted from an egg of a mother with unhealthy mitochondria. The father's sperm then fertilizes the egg. After which, the ovum is implanted and carried to term. The donor of the healthy egg, however, has legal rights to a child that may be conceived from the described procedure.

HFEA Chair Sally Cheshire stated, "Today's historic decision means that parents at very high risk of having a child with a life-threatening mitochondrial disease may soon have the chance of a healthy, genetically related child. This is life-changing for those families."

While many lauded the development, calling it an important scientific breakthrough, bioethicists are questioning if using such treatment is ethical and safe.

In a phone interview with Christian Post, Jennifer Lahl, president of the Center for Bioethics and Culture Network, shared that she would point out to people that the donors of the mitochondria are healthy young women. She said, "You have to harm one woman in the hopes of potentially helping somebody else. That doesn't sound like ethical science to me."

Meanwhile, Arina Grossu of the Family Research Council in Washington D.C. told CP that the procedure is "utterly disrespectful of human dignity on all counts."

"First, children deserve to have one mom and one dad. Second, children are not commodities to be created, used, and thrown away as some of these techniques do," Grossu stated, adding, "[The fertility clinics] do not know the ramifications of these genetic modifications on the children's long-term health nor the effects they will have on the entire human germline for all of their future generations."

David King, director of London-based watch group Human Genetics Alert, worry that the legalization of MRT could lead to a world of designer babies. He told the Associated Press, as reported by USA Today, "Allowing mitochondrial replacement means that there is no logical basis for resisting (genetically modified) babies."