Last week a story broke about the world’s first baby born via a new technique called mitochondrial donation. Mitochondrial donation is the newest version of in vitro fertilization (IVF), and creates babies who genetically have three parents.
This new technique involves taking an egg cell from the biological mother, extracting the nucleus of the egg, and placing the nucleus into a donor egg cell which also has the nucleus extracted. The new egg cell (which contains the nucleus of the biological mother’s egg and the rest of the cell from the donor mother) is fertilized with the father’s sperm, creating an embryo. The embryo is then implanted into the mother.
The technique is viewed as beneficial because there are certain genetic disorders and abnormalities which reside in a biological mother’s mitochondrial DNA. The mitochondrial DNA exist outside of the cell’s nucleus and can thus be separated from the nuclear DNA in this procedure. In the particular story just released, the mother had Leigh Syndrome, a fatal disorder which affects the developing nervous system. Indeed, the mother had tragically already lost two children to this disorder.
By taking the nucleus of the biological mother’s egg and inserting it into a donor cell with healthy mitochondrial DNA, it keeps the mother from passing on the genetic disorders, many of which are debilitating or fatal, to her children. Since the cell’s nuclear DNA is what houses most of the important genetic information such as looks and personality traits, there is little concern that the biological mother’s genetic information will be lost or that the donor’s genetic information will be present.
This new technique may seem to be cause for celebration at first glance, but this and other IVF techniques raise some legitimate concerns that need to be addressed. While much of the controversy surrounding this particular procedure was on account of the perceived risk of said procedure, the topic of IVF raises other moral and ethical concerns as well.
IVF ignores natural law and order
Through all of human history, babies have been coming into existence exactly as they were meant to come into existence, through the sex act. This is how procreation was designed by God, and fulfilled through nature. When we take procreation out of its natural context, we are ignoring the natural order of the world as God designed it. When we separate the sex act from natural procreation, we are reducing the marital embrace into an act by which both (or all) parties supply the raw material so that a technician may do his work in a lab.
It is true that infertility is a rising problem in our modern world, with as many as one in six couples unable to achieve pregnancy naturally. It should be noted that infertility is a painful struggle for married couples, and the very fact that so many couples desire children so strongly affirms the procreative nature and orientation of Marriage. This struggle, no matter how painful, does not give humanity license to interfere with the natural way in which children come into existence.
Indeed, humanity should be both mindful and respectful of the act by which children are born into the world, and should not take something natural and replace it with technology.
IVF leads to the indiscriminate loss of human embryos
The techniques in which human embryos are created often lend themselves to the creation of more than one embryo at a time. Since most couples only intend one pregnancy, the remaining embryos are either frozen or, tragically, discarded. This is problematic because, as we know, an embryo is a human being in its first stage of development. When unwanted or unused embryos are discarded, those are human beings going in the trash.
This leads to the idea to that children are commodities, products that can be manufactured or discarded if they are somehow defective or unneeded. To this end, it is becoming more common for embryos to be selected for implantation based on certain genetic traits, such as eye color, hair color, or height. While this idea of so-called “designer babies” is still in its infancy, this disturbing attitude toward children should be rejected at all costs, as should the discarding of unused or unwanted embryos.
IVF neglects the rights of children
The rights of children are almost always forgotten in this circumstance, but every child has a right to be conceived by one mother and one father inside of the marital embrace. Children are a gift from God, and should be treated as such. They have the right to not be treated as manufactured products and when the sentiment of “We have a right to have a child!” creeps in, this right of the child has been taken.
While many individuals conceived via IVF might never say so publicly, the fact is that some of them struggle with the way they were conceived. There are support groups out there for these individuals who have a difficult time accepting the means by which they came into existence. This only makes sense. Our identity is rooted in our parents and in our families. Given the choice, no doubt many would say they would rather be the product of a loving relationship than the product of a laboratory procedure.
That said, once human beings have been created, no matter the means, all of them retain the dignity and sanctity of life due to all other human beings. Even if the means by which they are conceived are immoral, they are loved by God and should be granted all the rights which human beings are afforded by their nature.
However, even though we acknowledge the dignity and sanctity of these lives, we reject the idea that this inherent dignity and sanctity of life is a successful justification for the manner by which they came into existence.
For these reasons, mitochondrial donation (and other IVF techniques) should be rejected as morally problematic and inherently unnatural. While the children produced in this manner retain the inherent dignity granted them by God, the procedure itself is a rejection of natural order and steps outside the bounds of what is morally licit.
Because the end never justifies the means, this procedure, while good in its intentions, can never be a truly moral act and can never be condoned.
Cullen Herout is a pro-life, pro-family writer. He has a passion for writing about life issues, Marriage, fatherhood, and creating a culture of life. He also hosts a pro-life radio show, which can be heard here. Follow him on Facebook here or at his own blog, Ready To Stand.
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