Logic purists will always call the appeal to the slippery slope a fallacy. You cannot argue against A just because it might lead to B.
Unfortunately in the our Brave New World of anything-goes biotechnology, the slippery slope is very real. It is an appeal that I use all the time because, these days, in reproductive medicine, A does lead to B. There are no lines that people are willing to draw if it curtails the mythical “reproductive rights.”
Case in point, the three-parent embryo. This technique was developed as a way to “prevent” terrible, life-threatening, mitochondrial diseases from being passed from mother to child. Whether correctly or not, the UK House of Commons and other proponents of the technique believe that the health benefits to the child outweigh the risks of using a procedure similar to cloning in the IVF process.
But now the scientist that developed one of the three-parent techniques, wants to use it not to “prevent” disease in a child, but as a treatment for infertility. In other words, he wants to use it not for the benefit of the child, but for the benefit of the potential parents.
In our age of “reproductive rights” see how quickly the focus shifts from the good of the children to the desires of the parents?
As women age, their eggs become less likely to yield a viable pregnancy. That may be due to aging factors like mitochondria in the cytoplasm of the egg. Taking the nucleus of an aging egg and placing it in a “young” donor egg would give older women the chance to have genetically-related children. It is also the very same technique used for “replacing” diseased mitochondria. It is genetic engineering of the egg that would create children with three genetic parents: two women and one man.
Dr Shoukhrat Mitalipov wants permission from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to use the three-parent embryo technique he developed as a new fertility treatment for older mothers. The Independent has the story:
Dr Shoukhrat Mitalipov, a world authority on embryo manipulation, said he had requested permission from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to conduct trials of mitochondrial transfer as a treatment for age-related infertility. He said the parliamentary vote last Tuesday, when MPs overwhelmingly approved the “three-parent” baby technique for creating IVF babies free of mitochondrial disease, has bolstered his case with the US regulator.
“We hope it will help in the US, and hopefully the FDA will move faster. The families have heard about the UK outcome and they welcome it. We’re very excited by it,” said Dr Mitalipov, senior scientist at the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland…
“The procedure is identical to mitochondrial disease treatment,” Dr Mitalipov said. “It has to be shown we can improve the pregnancy outcomes for these patients, and we are looking forward to doing the clinical studies with older women.
“We consider infertility a disease, and you treat the patients as you do for mitochondrial disease. I wouldn’t say one disease is more severe than another. Infertility is a very serious problem and these women deserve treatment as for any other disease. If the procedure is effective and safe, why would you hold it for one group of patients, but not for another?”
John Harris, professor of bioethics at Manchester University, said that if mitochondrial donation were shown to be safe for women who want IVF babies free of mitochondrial diseases, then it would be hard to argue against its application to infertility in older women.
The immediate call for the use of this untested, possibly unsafe, treatment as a new tool in the infertility tool-belt is a harbinger of things to come. It took less than a week for this shift of focus from the child to the parent. How long before the call for real “designer babies” where parents get to engineer the genetic make-up of their child?
This reproductive slippery slope is very real, and it is getting more slick every day. To protect the future generations from the genetic whims of the previous, we have to put a stop to human germ-line genetic engineering now.
Hat Tip: Center for Genetics and Society