The U.K. is still considering whether or not it will become the first country to allow so-called three-parent babies, but some question if the ethical issues surrounding the practice are stickier than previously thought.
The idea of a three-parent embryo is that it would contain genetic information from three people in the hope that it could prevent some genetic diseases from passing from the mother to the child. To accomplish this, researchers would remove DNA from the nucleus a healthy female donor's egg and replace it with the nucleus DNA of the prospective mother. After fertilization, the resulting child would inherit the mother's nucleus DNA — which contains most inherited traits like eye color and height — but the donor's healthy mitochondrial DNA.
This mitochondrial DNA can be linked with some diseases like muscular dystrophy, epilepsy, heart problems and mental retardation, which is why scientists are looking into this transfer of genetic material as a preventative option.
Though mitochondrial DNA doesn't influence things like appearance, New Scientist wrote in an editorial "it appears that we may have seriously underestimated the influence that mitochondria have. Recent research suggests that they play a key role in some of the most important features of human life."
"Up to now, the debate in the U.K. has focused on safety and efficacy. These matter, of course. But they must now be joined by a serious debate about the ethics," the editorial continued.
In addition to safety and how well such a genetic manipulation could work, other ethical issues raised by the practice include the argument that it could lead to "designer babies" — those with traits like eye color, height and intelligence customized by parents.
Still, New Scientist pointed out the positive benefits of avoiding some diseases all together could outweigh some of the ethical concerns. Not to mention, some parents might be fine with traits from a third parent" being expressed in their child.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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