By Dovidena (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

By Dovidena (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Ethical objections raised to creating “designer” babies by using DNA from three parents to avoid severe medical conditions. Is it “playing God?”

The British Parliament has passed an amendment to The Human Fertilization and Embryology (Mitochondrial Donation) Bill, 2008 in the United Kingdom, making it legal for a baby to be born of three parents.

This procedure allows scientists to replace the faulty DNA in an egg with good DNA from another person. What it means is that a child born this way would have two biological mothers. Dame Sally Claire Davies, the Chief Medical Officer for England, compares it to replacing a defective car battery, but others are not yet convinced, saying it goes beyond that. Dr. Ted Morrow, an evolutionary biologist with the University of Sussex is quick to point out what happened to Dolly the cloned sheep – she died prematurely of an infection. He adds that the replacement of mitochondrial DNA could influence the child's personality.

Sir John Gurdon, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2012 and Sir Paul Nurse, another Nobel Prize winner in the same category who now serves as President of the Royal Society, have thrown their weight behind the new legislation, in addition to three other Noble laureates. They say that science has come to the point where some 2,500 women with defective mitochondrial DNA can hope to have children without the fear of them being born with severe medical conditions such as muscular dystrophy. As of now, one out every 200 babies born in the U.K. has some form of serious mitochondrial disease. Others, like Professor Dagan Wells of the University of Oxford, and Dr. Dusko Ilic of King's College, London, too support the move.

The Department of Health's Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority, which monitors and licenses all IVF activity in the country, said Britain becoming the first nation in the world to legalize is a testament to their medical and technological progress. Replacement of mitochondrial DNA has been banned in the United States since 2002, following a thorough probe into the health of some 17 children who were conceived in a similar fashion at a private fertility clinic.

The Roman Catholic Church remains opposed to in-vitro fertilization or IVF, as it inevitably results in the destruction of human embryos, which it sees as life. The Church of England too had condemned the law earlier, and 2016 could see the birth of the first of these two-mom babies. Ahead of the vote to approve the bill that took place in February of this year, the Church of England deemed the procedure “irresponsible.” The Anglican Church cannot support the bill.

The Second Church Estate Commissioner and the voice of the Anglican Church in the Commons, Sir Tony Baldry, said: “The house is going to in due course have to consider some difficult issues both about start of life and end of life.”

“The Church of England accepts that embryo research is permissible if it’s undertaken to alleviate human suffering.

“But there are concerns that there has been insufficient scientific study or informed consultation into the ethics of mitochondria transfer, not least the role mitochondria play in the transfer of hereditary characteristics.”

Christian critics of the procedure also say it is like “playing god.”

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