At the request of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Institute of Medecine (IOM) of the National Academy of Science recently assembled an expert committee to consider the ethical issues raised by “3 parent IVF” technique. The final report published on February 3, 2016 provides an analysis of ethical, social and policy issues raised by this controversial method of reproduction.
The committee concluded that it is « ethically permissible » to conduct clinical investigations, with the objective of giving birth to babies thus conceived, under certain conditions and principles.
In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) with 3 parents consists in producing a human embryo in vitro by using DNA from 3 different individuals, one man and two women, with the objective of giving birth to children without genetic disease which would have been transmitted by organelles in the mother’s eggs: the mitochondria.
This IVF is performed in two stages. First the nucleus (genetic material) is removed from the egg of the mother and transferred to an egg free of nuclear DNA in another woman. The egg of the second woman contains all the organelles, thus healthy mitochondria. At last, this modified egg is fertilized in vitro by the father’s sperm, and then the embryo is implanted in the mother’s uterus.
However, the heart of the serious ethical issues raised by this technique is that mitochondria contain DNA, representing 1% of the total genome of an individual. And also because the embryo conceived in this manner contains DNA from 3 different individuals: the nuclear DNA from the father and the mother, and the mitochondrial DNA transmitted by the donor’s eggs.
This technique raises many serious concerns; the implications for children born from such genetic modifications are unknown. For female children, this germ-line modification would be heritable and thus appear in succeeding generations, therefore giving rise to risks which are impossible to predict.
The American report thus suggests limiting the trials for mitochondrial replacement to male embryos.
The British parliament did not retain this precaution, which aims to limit the impact on genetic modification on future generations; they authorized this mitochondrial “therapy” last year without any restrictions.
Following the in vitro fertilization, embryos will therefore be selected according to their sex.
For Alliance VITA « there are numerous ethical issues surrounding this technique. Is it real progress or the creation of a GMO Man? These issues involve egg donation and the status of women who donate: freedom, anonymity, contingent rights for un-born child. Of course, they also concern the unborn child himself. In addition to using human embryos for research, whereby certain will be destroyed, the DNA of “triple parental origin” constitutes a new human being produced with many physiological and even psychological unknowns.
Doesn’t this constitute practicing eugenics? This technique doesn’t aim to heal or care for the sick, but to give birth to individuals exempt of specific diseases. Therefore it is not medicine, but a form of eugenics, aiming to create custom-made human beings. Claiming that without this technique, these babies would not be born, is paramount to justifying all forms of genetic engineering on embryos”.
The FDA should soon pronounce its’ decision.
For further details:
Our expert at Alliance VITA: In Vitro Fertilization with 3 parents: defiance or delirium?
Computer graphics on 3-parent IVF