Where to Draw the Ethical Line on “Three-Parent” Embryos

In a panel discussion on HuffPost Live to debate the ethical question of genetically modified “three-parent” babies, Human Life International Director of Education and Evangelization Arland K. Nichols said the ethical line for genetically creating children has already been crossed with the advent of in vitro fertilization (IVF) and the destruction of life inherent in the IVF process.“Human lives are lost wholesale in this process,” Nichols said.

The British government launched a public consultation this week asking whether the controversial “three-parent” fertility treatments should be made available in hopes of avoiding passing on incurable diseases. The treatments are currently only in the research stage in the UK and the United States. The process would be the first to implant genetically modified embryos into women containing genes from a mother, a father, and a female donor.

After a couple of the other panelists expressed their thoughts and concerns with the procedure, the moderator asked Nichols where he would draw the “ethical line in the sand.”

“How did we get to this point where we are today where we’re actually facing a question of genetically altering human beings—introducing genes from two or three or perhaps more parents into a new human being?” asked Nichols. “And you look back and say: in vitro fertilization. For me, the ethical boundary was broken in 1978 when the first in vitro fertilized baby was born, Louise Brown in 1978.”

“And the problem with this is, with pronuclear transfer, with in vitro fertilization, you have the wholesale loss of brand new human life,” Nichols said.

A short time later, Nichols was asked how he would respond to perspective parents who aren’t able to conceive naturally.  “How would you say to that person, ‘I’m sorry but I don’t think that you have the right to go down this road to have a family?’” the moderator asked.

Nichols responded:

There are moral alternatives that are more successful in helping couples to get pregnant than in vitro fertilization. And those moral alternatives are being developed in a variety of universities around our country. And they’re based upon the work of Dr. Thomas Hilgers who developed NaPro Technology—natural procreative technology. The difference between NaPro Technology and in vitro fertilization is, first of all, NaPro Technology actually heals the woman of the underlying cause of her infertility. The infertility is a symptom of some underlying problem that she has. So it’s woman affirming, and it’s actually healing. On the other hand, in vitro fertilization does not do that. … [NaPro] also does not involve the loss of life that in vitro involves. No life is lost with NaPro Technology, but life is lost with in vitro fertilization.

Some of the questions the British government is asking the public to answer about the potential three-person IVF treatments are: how a child born from this sort of technique might feel?; whether the child should be told?; whether their sense of identity might be affected?; what the rights of the female donor might be?; whether the donation of mitochondrial DNA should be viewed as similar to egg or sperm donation, or more like blood or tissue donation?; and who should decide who can access the treatments?

The public can access the consultation on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) website at www.hfea.gov.uk.

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