WASHINGTON — Concerned about the effects of a new technology that involves three parents providing genetic information to create a child, experts are cautioning against opening up the technology to human clinical trials.
“The desire to help women suffering from mitochondrial disorders or infertility is admirable and worthy,” wrote Robert George, McCormick professor of jurisprudence at Princeton, and Dr. Donald Landry, chair of the Department of Medicine at New York Presbyterian Hospital, in a Feb. 18 letter to the Food and Drug Administration.
“However, the needs of the children being created through novel technologies also must be taken into account,” they warned.
The technology, referred to by the FDA as “oocyte modification in assisted reproduction,” was developed to avoid mitochondrial disorders and ultimately means that the child created by the process will inherit genetic information from three parents.
In oocyte modification, the DNA from a mother — who has a defect in her mitochondrial DNA — and a father is inserted into an egg from a second woman, who has healthy mitochondrial DNA.
The letters to the FDA were sent in advance of hearings to be held by the department Feb. 25 and 26 over the possibility that this technology would be expanded to human clinical trials
In a Feb. 18 letter, posted online for supportive individuals to sign, the Center for Genetics and Society said that human trials of the procedure “should not be permitted because of the profound safety, efficacy, policy and social problems they would pose.”
“We question the ethics of bringing children into existence by experimental techniques that have had developmentally poor outcomes in studies using both animal and human” eggs, the organization continued.
Medical and Ethical Problems
George and Landry also criticized the procedure on medical and ethical grounds, pointing to potential birth defects and other disorders from in vitro fertilization, and the relative lack of regulatory oversight to “monitor safety for children or mothers” in such artificial reproductive procedures, warning that the children “created using these techniques would be exposed to a range of medical risks.”
They cautioned that children created through these techniques could experience effects on “individual development, cognitive behavior and key health parameters” due to interactions between the genetic information of the parents.
They also noted that while some other assisted-reproduction technologies can result in the destruction of human embryos, this technique “would have the dubious distinction of being the first assisted-reproduction technology necessarily to involve the deliberate destruction of human embryos” in its processes.
Approving such a procedure for human trials “that systematically and necessarily destroys human embryos would mean permitting an unjust and immoral exploitation and instrumentalization of human life,” the professors warned.
George and Landry were also concerned that the use of three parents to create a child would be “a dramatic alteration of the first and most basic of natural human relationships, with consequences difficult to fathom or predict.”
Human beings have “one genetic mother and one genetic father, a biological fact that is inseparable from our most fundamental social institutions” and psychology, they said, and actions that “would purposely reconfigure the natural, biological foundation of the family merit heightened moral scrutiny,” they charged.
Landry and George pointed out that children of sperm or egg donors often experience distress and suffering because of the disrupted familial relationship and lack of a relationship with their biological parents.
The addition of another parent who gives a child genetic information “would create parental relationships unprecedented in nature, with children related to two genetic mothers,” they said, and “would be especially reckless and immoral” to support.