Today’s article in Headline Bistro
This month, in the 14 April online edition of the prestigious British journal Nature, researchers from Newcastle University published a letter entitled, “Pronuclear Transfer in Human Embryos to Prevent Transmission of Mitochondrial DNA Disease”.
In this letter, Douglas M. Turnbull, et al. report on a human cloning technique that destroys two lives to create a human organism that is a three-parent hybrid, all in the name of attempting to eradicate mitochondrial disease. The technique is quite easy for the non-scientist to understand. Its ramifications are poisonous and corrosive of human dignity, promising to create more human suffering than the technique will ever of itself cure.
First, mitochondrial diseases are serious and without cure. Mitochondria are a subset of the cellular structures called organelles, and are small, compartmentalized structures within every human cell whose function is to convert the energy contained in sugar into a usable form of energy called ATP.
Defects in mitochondrial function, according to Cleveland Clinic can produce the following, depending on which cell types have affected mitochondria:
Loss of muscle coordination, muscle weakness
Visual and/or hearing problems
Developmental delays, learning disabilities
Heart, liver, or kidney disease
Gastrointestinal disorders, severe constipation
Increased risk of infection
Neurological problems, seizures
Dementia (mental disorder characterized by confusion, disorientation, and memory loss)
About one in 4,000 children in the United States will develop mitochondrial disease by the age of 10 years. One thousand to 4,000 children per year in the United Sates are born with a type of mitochondrial disease.
Second, it is necessary to understand that all organelles, including the mitochondria are inherited from the mother through the egg cell. Many, like the mitochondria, have their own DNA to direct their self-replication. The problem arises when a mother has genetically defective mitochondria and passes these on to her offspring through her eggs. That’s the mode of disease transmission.
Quite simply, what the researchers did was to employ in vitro fertilization of the mother’s egg with father’s sperm in the lab. This produces a new human being in the single-celled stage of development called a zygote. In this experiment, the zygotes created from couple number one had defects in the mitochondrial DNA. The same process was applied to a couple with no mitochondrial defect. Now they had two sets of zygotes, one healthy, one not.
The researchers then took the nucleus out of the healthy zygote and discarded it (recall that the nucleus is where the chromosomal DNA responsible for the unique identity and functions of the organism resides). They then took the nucleus from the diseased zygotes and injected it into the healthy zygote whose nucleus had just been removed. The result was a seemingly healthy cell with the genetic identity of couple number one, and the organelles of mother number two.
That’s a human being whose every subsequent cell bears a combined genetic and cytological lineage of three parents.
This process was performed a total of eighty times. The zygotes were permitted to grow for up to eight days before being destroyed in the embryonic blastocyst stage. Not all, however, made it that far. A mere 18 of 80 made it past the single-celled stage and divided. Compared to a control group of diseased embryos, these clones did half as well (8%).
What have we done to ourselves? In the headlong pursuit to avoid suffering and disease, we are sacrificing our very identity as humans, our dignity. No longer begotten, children are manufactured in IVF clinics, and with the latest wrinkle, the composite of two mothers and one father. The latest creations have come about through the destruction of two humans in the zygotic stage to create a Frankenstein’s baby that is a composite of its two destroyed progenitors. Or were they siblings? Or were they parental organisms?
We need a new vocabulary for a new race of humans.
In attempting to come to terms with the monstrous revelation last week, given the imprimatur of the most prestigious journal in science, consider this prescient statement from the George W. Bush’s President’s Council on Bioethics, in Human Cloning and Human Dignity, The Report of the President’s Council on Bioethics:
“We should not be self-deceived about our ability to set limits on the exploitation of nascent life. What disturbs us today we quickly or eventually get used to; yesterday’s repugnance gives way to tomorrow’s endorsement. A society that already tolerates the destruction of fetuses in the second and third trimesters will hardly be horrified by embryo and fetus farming (including in animal wombs), if this should turn out to be helpful in the cure of dreaded diseases.
“We realize, of course, that many proponents of cloning-for-biomedical-research will recommend regulations designed to prevent just such abuses (that is, the expansion of research to later-stage cloned embryos and fetuses). Refusing to erect a red light to stop research cloning, they will propose various yellow lights intended to assure ourselves that we are proceeding with caution, limits, or tears. Paradoxically, however, the effect might actually be to encourage us to continue proceeding with new (or more hazardous) avenues of research; for, believing that we are being cautious, we have a good conscience about what we do, and we are unable to imagine ourselves as people who could take a morally disastrous next step. We are neither wise enough nor good enough to live without clear limits.”