Britain is on the way to becoming the first country where it could be legal to create ‘three person babies’, as the media has branded them. As ever politicians and members of the public have brought up the same arguments that always seem to emerge when there is a development in the field of trying to help parents have healthy children. People have strong opinions on the topic. On the BBC website a comment was left by the user justiceoneday, who wrote, “Those who support this madness are bought and paid for degenerates…”
However the doctors who have pioneered the technique will potentially save many lives as it prevents babies inheriting hereditary diseases by replacing the mitochondria of the mother’s egg.
Mitochondria are found in a cell outside of the nucleus. They make the energy on which our bodies run. There are 37 genes inside them, and the amount of DNA they carry is so small it is almost insignificant. In the nucleus itself, there is all the essential genetic material that has come from both parents. It contains more than 20,000 genes. When mitochondria are compared to the nucleus, it can easily be seen that it is the nucleus, not the mitochondria, which contains virtually everything that will be affecting the physical appearance of the baby as well as the baby’s mind.
Mitochondrial diseases are only inherited through the maternal route in an egg. They are rare disabilities passed down and usually mean those affected live very short lives. If a woman carries mitochondria that cause these diseases she is likely to pass them to her children. But if you exchange her mitochondria with healthy mitochondria then the bad gene line will end and future generations of children will be healthy.
Therefore the ground-breaking technique the Government is planning to allow to happen is centred on replacing a mother’s disease-bearing mitochondria with that of a healthy woman’s. To perform the method, IVF must first be completed. The father’s sperm is injected or mixed with the mother’s egg, and only when fertilisation has occurred can the scientists suck out the pro-nuclei of the two parents and inject it into a donor egg with healthy mitochondria. Pro-nuclei are the nuclei of a sperm or egg cell during fertilisation. This replacement would mean that the baby would have mitochondria that are not defective. The baby would then have most of its DNA and genes from two parents and only 37 genes from the donor.
The question is does that amount to having three parents or is it simply alike to a baby having two parents and a donated heart, or a kidney transplant? The doctors at Newcastle University who are at the forefront of the research into the process believe that it is just like “changing a battery”, and they prefer the method not being called the making of “three parent babies”.
People opposed to it though say “mitochondrial replacement” should not be allowed for religious reasons because God doesn’t want us to interfere with nature. Perhaps they have forgotten that in the Bible in the parable of the talents Jesus says we should use our talents to achieve more in life and help people.
Others say there are already enough unwanted children in this world waiting to be adopted so why go through this process when the parents can just foster a child? Parents who can’t have children are said to be being selfish wanting children with their own genes so they are like them, rather than adopting children with some one else’s? But in a modern world where scientific advances mean they could have their own children without passing on defects which could shorten their lives, why shouldn’t they? We would all still be living in caves if the human race weren’t allowed to invent and progress.
Some people even argue that it’s fine to be born with disabilities and those who are born with them deserve respect, and of course they do. But this is about children who are not being born at all because they parents don’t want to give their children the burden of being born ill. It’s not like the abortion debate where people who are against abortion say you may be killing an unborn child. This is about allowing children to be born healthy who otherwise would not be born at all.
The first ever baby created using IVF was born in the UK, near Bristol more than thirty years ago. If Britain can’t still lead the way in fertility techniques then the best doctors may go abroad to work. If Britain doesn’t change the law and allow this technique to go ahead, another country will.
We have one more problem though and that’s politics. The Government has said with a bit more research it is planning to bring in draft laws which should lead to it occurring, and so helping at least ten couples a year to have healthy babies. But with the General Election coming up next year, and a lot of MP’s from all the parties opposed, will the government go ahead with its plans? Or will it decide the subject is too controversial and decide not to risk an argument in case it loses them votes?
They shouldn’t let politics get in the way. The Government should have the courage to do it for the sake of parents who are affected and to encourage scientific research in this country.
High-profile people like Angelina Jolie have acted on genetic knowledge. She has had her breasts removed because she carries the BRAC2 gene that makes her susceptible to breast cancer.
Everyone will face similar worries as genetic information becomes more readily available but they’ll discover that their knowledge gives them the power to take control of their life.
Some people believe that techniques such as IVF and the ‘three parent baby’ method are wrong, and they would accuse doctors of meddling with nature. They’re only meddling with nature to the same extent as someone who takes an antibiotic. Do these people think we should go back to the days where diseases like tuberculosis killed millions of people every year? Should we not operate on a person’s broken leg because that would be an interference to the natural system? To call it the ‘Three Parent Baby’ process is wrong, but the method itself is right way to go. Genetic knowledge means we can take our future into our own hands.