Newcastle University is once again at the forefront of pioneering medical techniques. The government has decided to push ahead with findings from Newcastle which would mean that some genetic conditions can be prevented.
Some children are born with faulty mitochondria (tiny power units inside our cells). These faulty units can be the cause of some types of muscular dystrophy, heart or liver conditions. About one in 6500 children are born with a mitochondrial disorder. Each year 5 or 10 babies develop severe forms of the disease.
HOW DO THEY GET IT?
It is a genetic disorder which may be passed on by mothers to unborn children.
HOW CAN IT BE CONTROLLED?
The answer would be to encourage couples who are known to carry the disease to have children by IVF. In addition to the two parents an additional female donor would be used – hence 3 parents.
The nucleus from the mother’s egg would replace the nucleus in the healthy donor’s egg. The donor’s egg with the mother’s nucleus would be fertilised by sperm from the father. The fertilised egg would then be reinserted into the mother’s womb where it could develop as a healthy embryo.
Providing the pregnancy continued without further problems, a healthy child would be born and the faulty mitochondria would not recur in future generations of the family.
EFFECTS OF 3 PARENTS
The child would inherit DNA from 3 biological parents, father,mother and female donor. It is reckoned that 0.1 per cent of the baby’s genes would come from the donor. The identity of the donor would not be revealed to the child
Up to now germ-line gene therapy has not been legal in the UK
THOSE IN FAVOUR
The Government’s Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies is enthusiastic about the measure and hopes that the technique will be approved for use by parliament before the end of 2014.
HFEA (Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has conducted a public consultation on the technique and found widespread support for it.
As ever some fear that mitochondrial therapy is the first step towards enhancement and designer babies. Concern has also been expressed about unforseen circumstances.
There seems to be a mood of optimism with this replacement therapy and a hope that it will remove the threat, once and for all, of mitochondria disorders in a family. Future generations will as a consequence of this be born without the genetic fault
FROM AND ETHICAL POINT OF VIEW
NATURAL LAWThe reservations voiced about IVF by followers of this persuasion will not be cancelled by the consequences of a healthier lifestyle. The issue of the destruction of spare embryos will be sufficient to ensure that this ethical theory would not support the treatment.
The Roman Catholic Church will undoubtedly not encourage married couples to become involved in this. Apart from a general disagreement with IVF, the introduction of a third person into the creative activity of children would not be acceptable to the church.
Protestants are more likely to take a liberal view – a chance to do a more loving thing for future generations.
Under an umbrella of maximizing of happiness and minimising of pain, there seems no doubt that the technique would receive approval.
Here the issue would be more of a puzzle. Neo-Kantian philosophers could be faced with a quandary.
It may be too easy to say that Kant would have considered the donor as being a means to an end. The argument always needs care. Kant actually says someone must not be “merely” a means to and end. That small word needs to be evaluated carefully.
Kant was a great believer in human rights . He might have argued that such measures are truly humanizing.
Beware though of the emotional factor. Kant would not have been swayed by arguments such as compassion and love. One acts out of duty alone.
Well how do you think he might have reacted?