Note: There seems to be two different protocols that have been reported on this, as Melissa points out in the combox below. I’ll track down the correct one and adjust accordingly.
News today from AP that a research team at Oregon Health and Sciences University has replicated work done a few years ago in Britain, constructing a human embryo by using the eggs of two mothers and a father’s sperm.
Read it at FoxNews
The goal here is to prevent diseases that arise from genetic defects within the energy-producing organelle of the cell known as the mitochondrion. These so-called mitochondrial diseases are very real and quite varied. As the article states:
About 1 in every 5,000 children inherits a disease caused by defective mitochondrial genes. The defects can cause many rare diseases with a host of symptoms, including strokes, epilepsy, dementia, blindness, deafness, kidney failure and heart disease.
So the diseases and the frequencies are significant. The ethics are a forgone conclusion. We’ll debate the ethics of taking the healthy nucleus from Jane’s egg and putting it into the egg of Lisa (which has had its nucleus removed), and then fertilizing that hybrid with Jane’s husband’s sperm. In this way, they will have children with 99% DNA from Jane and hubby, and only 1% DNA residing in the mitochondrion.
What effect will this have on the offspring, and will there be complications? We won’t know until we manufacture these babies and await the results not only over the course of the manufactured baby’s life, but in the lives of the descendants.
It won’t stop there.
The next step will be the genetic engineering of nuclear DNA by either replacing entire chromosomes, or at the least, defective nuclear genes. The guiding ethical principle?
Suffering is bad, and the noble end of preventing suffering justifies the means.
Emanating from this nobility comes the evil of intolerance of those who suffer, and who afflict us with their suffering. Consider the following from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. in his infamous majority opinion in the 1927 Buck v. Bell case which upheld the forced sterilization of the developmentally delayed:
Carrie Buck is a feeble minded white woman who was committed to the State Colony above mentioned in due form. She is the daughter of a feeble minded mother in the same institution, and the mother of an illegitimate feeble minded child…
An Act of Virginia, approved March 20, 1924, recites that the health of the patient and the welfare of society may be promoted in certain cases by the sterilization of mental defectives, under careful safeguard, &c.; that the sterilization may be effected in males by vasectomy and in females by salpingectomy, without serious pain or substantial danger to life; that the Commonwealth is supporting in various institutions many defective persons who, if now discharged, would become [p206] a menace, but, if incapable of procreating, might be discharged with safety and become self-supporting with benefit to themselves and to society…
We have seen more than once that the public welfare may call upon the best citizens for their lives. It would be strange if it could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the State for these lesser sacrifices, often not felt to be such by those concerned, in order to prevent our being swamped with incompetence. It is better for all the world if, instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes. Three generations of imbeciles are enough.
There’s nothing new in our age.
When suffering is to be avoided at all costs, the question becomes, “WHOSE suffering?”
The answer to that question then determines the lengths to which we will go to prevent that suffering.
The next step will be designer babies, and on what grounds could parents possibly be stopped? That it’s unethical to manufacture human beings in a lab? Are they humans in that Petri dish? If yes, why do we discard so many during normal IVF? Is that not murder? If the answer is no, then what harm is there? Isn’t genetic engineering for traits just a cleaner and more precise version of picking up a blonde-haired, blue-eyed stud in a bar, or picking out an Ivy-League sperm donor?
What is being lost in the process that now gives people pause?
That’s the only question whose answer matters.