An experimental technique for creating embryos with three biological parents is perfectly safe, claims the British government. The experiment would use one genetically modified egg (with the nucleus from another egg), and sperm to create a new human life via IVF.
This isn’t just a concern in England. Earlier this year, in the United States, an FDA Advisory Committee held a hearing examining mitochondrial disease prevention with the creation of three-parent embryos.
Britain’s fertility regulator says controversial techniques to create embryos from the DNA of three people “do not appear to be unsafe” even though no one has ever received the treatment, according to a new report released Tuesday.
The report based its conclusion largely on lab tests and some animal experiments and called for further experiments before patients are treated.
“Until a healthy baby is born, we cannot say 100 percent that these techniques are safe,” said Dr. Andy Greenfield, who chaired the expert panel behind the report.
The techniques are meant to stop mothers from passing on potentially fatal genetic diseases to their babies and involve altering a human egg or embryo before transferring it into a woman. Such methods have only been allowed for research in a laboratory, but the U.K. department of health has said it hopes new legislation will be in place by the end of the year that allows treatment of patients.
If approved, Britain would become the first country in the world to allow embryos to be genetically modified this way.
But bioethicists like Wesley Smith have written that the process is not safe and has caused problems when used in animals.
“I’ve written about this before–and in fact, was labeled with the “anti-science” pejorative for opposing three-parent embryos on safety and ethical grounds,” Smith wrote. “These issues are significant. Animals created through this method have had significant health issues. Making babies through this process would, in my opinion, constitute unethical human experimentation.”
“There are also significant ethical issues. For example, what would it do to family life were children to have three biological parents? Should the process be opened to lesbian couples so that both could be genetically related to a child one bears–which is impossible today?” Smith continues. “Then, there are all the children out there begging to be adopted as we move heaven and earth–and spare no expense–to make it so that everyone who wants a biologically related child can have one.”
“We live in an age in which we believe we are entitled to what we want. So, look for the manufacture of 3-parent IVF embryos to eventually become part of reproductive medicine–the considerable expense for which required by law to be paid for by health insurance,” he concludes.
There are numerous scientific uncertainties surrounding three parent embryos. There is sparse scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of these techniques. Additionally, there is virtually no evidence to support safety or health results for three-parent children born from these techniques. Plus, one wonders about the impact of this procedure on future offspring, including the unintended side effects of genetic engineering of human beings.
There are also serious ethical questions that need to be answered first, and which were raised to the Advisory Committee during their hearing. These techniques would destroy human embryos for the purpose of science. Additionally, the annual Dickey Wicker Amendment prohibits federal funding for human embryo harm or destruction. Although many presenters who gave oral testimony at the FDA Advisory Committee, including FRC’s Dr. David Prentice, focused on the ethical questions surrounding three parent embryos, the Committee said that they were not focusing on whether the FDA should approve this technique, but rather how they would go about creating three parent embryos.