'Three-parent babies' ethically questionable

Unlike Dr Andy Ho, I do not agree that the mitochondrial transfer technique represents a "step forward" in finding a cure for mitochondrial disease ("'Three-parent babies' a step forward"; last Monday).

The process of mitochondrial transfer is often referred to as creating "three-parent babies", since it attempts to replace the defective mitochondrial DNA from the egg of one woman with the healthy mitochondrial DNA from another woman, before fertilisation by the man's sperm.

The result is the fundamental alteration of the human genome, creating a new kind of human being with more than two biological parents.

In a 2013 written declaration, 34 members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe condemned the "creation of children with genetic material from more than two progenitor persons" as being "incompatible with human dignity and international law". In the statement, they referred to various human rights documents, including the Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights, and the European Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine.

By highlighting the opposition only from the Catholic and Anglican churches, Dr Ho unfortunately omitted to mention that a number of scientists have disagreed with the move.

In an open letter to the British government, stem cell researcher Paul Knoepfler wrote that even if this technology might help prevent some people from having mitochondrial disorders, "the bottom line is that there is an equal or arguably greater chance that it will tragically produce very ill or deceased babies".

Professor Evan Snyder, the top scientific adviser to the United States authorities, warned that there is currently insufficient scientific evidence that the process is safe.

Scientific development must at all times be guided by ethical progress.

The creation of "three-parent babies" is ethically questionable and its effects are not conclusively proven. It is by no means a step forward.

Darius Lee

This article was first published on March 9, 2015.
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