Three's a Crowd?

This inquisitive and challenging guest post is with thanks from Regent Law 3L Brittany Jones…
                 Kids growing up in the modern world often lead confusing lives. Many have lived in multiple towns, in multiple houses, and had multiple people who represent parents in their lives. To some extent this is a result of our flat, progressive world which has its benefits and detractions. Modern science is now prepared to add to some children’s confusion even more by creating children from the biological material of three different people. Recently one doctor traveled to Mexico in order to experiment with Mitochondrial (mtDNA) transfers in mothers who have the potential to pass on mitochondrial mutations.[1] A healthy baby boy was born of this process just four months ago. While the science behind such transfers is much too complicated for the writer of this article and most people in general, there are significant practical implications on the children born from such transfers. Essentially, the child born of these techniques has three biological parents. As has been seen in children born of surrogacy, children born of the mitochondrial transfers could experience severe identity issues. Some argue that the child would have only a small linkage to the third parent biologically stating, “the genetic contribution from the mtDNA donor is small constituting just 0.1% of the total DNA.”[2] It is unknown, however, how even such a small biological attachment could effect a child. 
Also, an entire gene line is changed in this process.  A child born from this procedure and all of his descendants will carry the DNA of a third person. While this could create a multitude of unforeseen problems in the future, what is most worrisome about this procedure is that it is being done in nations with very little regulatory oversight such as Mexico and China. The lack of regulation could open the door to unsafe and unhealthy practices.
The doctor who performed the first transfer argues that he is doing the ethical thing by riding the gene line of certain fatal mutations.[3] While this is a noble goal, the means of reaching this end may very well endanger more than we know.  The risk of the child actually getting the mitochondrial disease from the removed gene is only that: a risk. While the parents who received the mitochondrial transfer in Mexico tragically had lost multiple children due to mitochondrial mutations, the consequences of these new actions could be more far reaching.[4] Further, four embryos were destroyed in order to produce one healthy baby, thus imposing many of the same risk that are associated with other types of artificial reproduction – terminating the lives of some embryos to benefit others. Thus, the question is posed once again to our generation: is the ability of all adults to have a healthy baby that is in some part biologically their own superior to the right of a baby in the embryonic stage to live and to know its true roots? Is our generation willing to pay the consequences for crowding out the rights of the child simply so parents, as noble as the sentiment is, can have their own child? Every life is valuable no matter the origin of that child, but society must ask itself if it wants to promote a procedure that in the end takes more lives than it produces.
1 Ian Sample, The Guardian (Sep. 27, 2016), https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/sep/27/worlds-first-baby-born-using-dna-from-three-parents; Shoukhrat Mitalipov & Don P. Wolf, Clinical and Ethical Implication of Mitochondrial Gene Transfer, 1 Trends Endocrinol Metab 5 (2015).
2 Shoukhrat Mitalipov & Don P. Wolf, Clinical and Ethical Implication of Mitochondrial Gene Transfer, 1 Trends Endocrinol Metab 5 (2015).
3 Ian Sample, The Guardian (Sep. 27, 2016), https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/sep/27/worlds-first-baby-born-using-dna-from-three-parents.
4 Id.

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