The concept of “designer babies” may sound like science fiction, a literal Brave New World, but it is decidedly not fictional – it is here now and being pushed rapidly into fertility clinics.
After only a brief debate on February 3rd in the House of Commons, British Members of Parliament (MPs) approved a proposal to create genetically-engineered babies, who all will contain the DNA of three parents: two mothers and one father. The vote wasn’t even close – 382 voted to approve while only 128 opposed.
The proposal is framed, as is often the case, as a “treatment” for a dread disease, and as the only possible way to proceed if we are to eliminate human suffering.
In this instance, the proposed “cure” is for mitochondrial diseases. These genetic diseases are due to mutations in the DNA of cellular mitochondria, which are the “energy factories” present in every cell. Mutations in the DNA of mitochondria can, indeed, lead to severe, tragic diseases. In severe cases the life span is only a few years, and even in mild cases there can be significant health problems. So the promise of a potential treatment has great appeal.
But what has been proposed, and now approved by the House of Commons, is not a treatment at all. The proposed technique ignores people who already have mitochondrial disease, spurning them in favor of creating new individuals who will — as the advocates hope promise — not carry the genetic mutations.
The proposal is to manufacture genetically-engineered babies. Mitochondria are inherited from the mother, so the proposal calls for recombining parts from two different eggs to engineer a genetically new egg, theoretically with healthy mitochondrial DNA. This process entails the destroying and recombining parts from two different embryos to assemble a genetically new embryo.
Missing from the proposal is evidence for the safety, as well as the efficacy, of the proposed embryo-manufacturing techniques. Numerous comments from around the world have pointed out the flaws in the science as well as the all-important ethical considerations raised by the proposal. Polls show that the majority of British public sentiment opposes proceeding with these exercises in genetic engineering of human beings, in spite of all the emotional appeals having been made in its favor.
In the end, all of the evidence against this genetic twiddling of humans was ignored, and now the Parliament is headed toward consent to begin construction of British-engineered babies.
Editor’s note: Author David Prentice’s testimony was included in the materials considered by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee hearing in October, 2014. This column was adapted from a blog post at the website of the Charlotte Lozier Institute.