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Three-parent IVF: scientific progress or “designer babies?”

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My twin and I were born via in-vitro fertilization IVF, a process of fertilization that manually combines an egg and sperm in a laboratory dish and then transfers the embryo to the uterus. That was the only way for my parents to have children, and it was a process that ultimately allowed me to sit down and write this article. That being said, when I found out about the new legislation in the United Kingdom, I could not pass up the opportunity to express my viewpoint.

In short, the U.K. recently passed legislation that allowed scientists to use the DNA of three donors in order to create babies: sperm from one donor, an egg from another and mitochondria structures in a cell’s nucleus that produce valuable energy from a third, which involves altering a human egg or embryo before transferring it into the mother. This process prevents children from inheriting fatal mitochondrial diseases from their mothers. The U.K. is now the first country in the world to allow for the creation of genetically modified embryos, which critics claim will eventually lead to creating “designer babies” in the future.

For individuals with severe mitochondrial diseases, this development gives hope that their children can live a life free of the pain and suffering they experience. This is truly a life-saving process, yet it differs from the traditional in-vitro process that the world has been coming to terms with the past two decades. In my case, the point of in-vitro was simply for the sake of life, for the hope that my parents could create a family of their own. For my parents there was about a 30 percent chance that the in-vitro process would actually work, and for some reason or another they ended up with twins. As grateful as I am for in-vitro fertilization, I find it hard to come to a decision on whether or not this new step in the process is beneficial.

Many critics have expressed the fear that this new three-donor process could possibly lead to further genetic modification, a concern I also share. I find it hard to go against a process that gave me life, yet at some point I believe a line has to be drawn. I do believe that a step such as three-donor IVF could be the beginning of a landslide of potential pushes to allow for further genetic alteration. As I stated before, “traditional” IVF is simply for the sake of creating life, and even with the technology we have, the process does not always succeed in creating babies. At this point, IVF seems like the furthest we should go, and to throw genetic modification on top of it crosses that line. On the one hand, I feel for the parents who don’t wish to see their children experience pain, yet on the other I see consequences that loom down the road. Perhaps this is just a step in an evolution that is uniquely human, a process that will help our species move into an age of technology. Is it important to protect the health of suffering children, or are we passing a scientific boundary?

To go against these developments makes me feel like a snake that is biting its own tail. I am grateful for the advances that allowed for me to live in this world, yet I still believe that there is a line that can be crossed and that nature has its limits. But then again, maybe if humans can perform processes such as three-donor IVF, it is simply part of nature. We are nature’s creatures, and all of our actions are simply actions that nature has allowed us to perform. Either way, I cannot see a clear answer to any of these questions despite my personal relationship to IVF developments. During these times, I turn to a famous quote by one of my favorite fictional characters, Mewtwo: “I see now that the circumstances of one’s birth are irrelevant; it is what you do with the gift of life that determines who you are.”

Maybe this isn’t a question about what is too far or what negative outcomes might arise, but rather a question about what life is and how our species should value a life free from pain and suffering.

Cole Hatzky ’18 hatzky1@stolaf.edu is from Iowa City, Iowa. He majors in English.

Graphic Credit: ERIN KNADLER/MANITOU MESSENGER