Don't let moral intuitions hold back medical progress

Don't let moral intuitions hold back medical progress

IN HIS letter, Mr Darius Lee opposed the creation of "three-parent babies" on the grounds that it is unethical as well as unsafe for all parties involved ("'Three-parent babies' ethically questionable"; Monday).

While I am in agreement over the need for further testing to verify the safety of the procedure, I fail to see how ethical concerns should invalidate the legitimacy of such a method of treatment, should it be proven to be relatively safe.

The benefits of the "three-parent" procedure are clear: It prevents further transmission of mitochondrial disease, thereby allowing (female) carriers of faulty mitochondria to bear healthy children free from any mitochondrial-related afflictions.

Many have claimed that the "three-parent" procedure is unethical. Much of the discomfort stems from our tendency to view the product of such a procedure as a chimera of sorts - the concept of chimerism being particularly revolting when applied in the context of humans.

A child born by way of the three-parent procedure is not a chimera, but a regular individual with his parents' genetic make-up, who happens to have a mere 0.054 per cent of his genome replaced by that of a third individual.

The replacement mitochondrial DNA is separate from DNA in the nucleus - nucleic DNA being solely responsible for the determination of a child's personal characteristics.

Furthermore, cell evolution theory suggests that mitochondrial DNA present within us is unaffiliated with the DNA of human cells.

It would be a shame to cling on to our (often flawed) moral intuitions at the expense of scientific and medical progress.

Eugene Tai Yun Heng

This article was first published on March 11, 2015.
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