‘Three-parent babies’ raise ethical questions

Credit: Getty Images
Credit: Getty Images

The United States Food and Drug Administration is considering allowing so-called three-parent babies, where cells from a second woman is added to the existing male-female couple. This may help prevent genetic diseases.

Metro spoke with Kenneth Boyd, a noted medical ethicist and Emeritus Professor of Medicine at the University of Edinburgh.

Metro: The FDA is expected to allow three-parent babies. Is this a natural step in reproductive evolution or a highly dangerous decision?

Boyd: It depends on how the question is framed. What actually is dangerous, I think, is describing this as ‘three-parent babies’ and ‘a natural step in reproductive evolution.’ It can equally be described as two parents with something like an organ or ‘battery’ transplant — a procedure morally justified only in the case of seriously disabling mitochondrial conditions and after carefully regulated and consented research.

Looking at the medical implications of such a decision, what can we expect?

Too soon to say – medical research is only justified when there’s a chance, but as yet, no certainty of a successful outcome; and the safety, as well as the efficacy of these techniques, remains to be discovered.

And the ethical implications: now that parents can choose to add a second woman’s egg, won’t they feel pressure to add a third parent’s to guarantee a 100 percent healthy child?

It’s unlikely that anyone will ever be able to guarantee a 100 per cent healthy child. Health depends on environmental, as well as inherited factors. Probably the best we can hope for from reproductive medical research is to prevent some known and specific forms of serious disease or disability.


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