Science is a marvel. There’s no denying it. All those weird and wonderful discoveries and inventions that allow us to live in such and advanced world, almost pain-free, with time and labour-saving gadgets, incomprehensible communications and awe-inspiring visual and auditory stimuli.
But there are times when I have winced at the latest developments and one of them is: three-person IVF.
One’s first thought is ‘What?????’ I’ve heard of the three parent family, and I’m not referring to step-parents; the Mother, Father and surrogate setup; or even, Mother, Father and egg/sperm-donor.
But, now there is another scenario: Mother, Father and Mother… um, yes, i think that’s right. You see, there are instances when the mitochondria within the ovum is faulty. Mitochondria, the powerhouse of a cell – and pretty much every cell has one – has its own DNA. One inherits one’s mitochondrial DNA from one’s mother (which has been crucial in establishing lineage between cultures). Now, the ovum contains the mother’s DNA and mitochondria, which has its own DNA.
The tri-parent situation arises when the DNA from one mother is transferred out of her ovum into the ovum (which has already had the DNA removed) of another woman, which has undamaged mitochondria. Once the ovum is fertilised we have: Father’s DNA, Mother One’s DNA and Mother Two’s mitochondrial DNA. The new three-parent family.
But, of course, the idea of the tri-parent family isn’t wholly unique – see above: surrogates; donated eggs; donated sperm or even the step-parent scenario in which case we could be talking of more than three-parents. The fundamental difference here is to do with genetics.
So, why am I agonising over this? What is the shock factor? Because, at the end of the day, when it comes to mitochondrial DNA, who the hell cares except for historians and anthropologists who are in the business of tracing lineages.
My beef has to do with the thousands of hours, the cost and the phenomenal use of resources that has gone into, and continues to fuel, this venture. Meanwhile, thousands of children die the world over from preventable diseases – this is when my heart saddens because it is not Science’s fault that we are focussing on mitochondrial transfer. Nor is it science’s fault that progeny is valued so highly that one child will lie neglected while another is created with the desired genes.
The legal world strives to be impartial, unemotional and unbiased –as exampled by the blind lady with her scales of justice. Perhaps we need an unemotional, impartial, unbiased weighing up of the choices we make in how our scientific resources are utilised.
But then, I am already a mother, I have my wonderful children and, by the grace of God, I have not needed to stumble down that harsh road. At the end of the day, no human is unemotional and we are all slaves to our emotions.