February 23, 2015

The goal of the procedure that led to the reality of “three-parent children” is to prevent mitochondrial disease. This procedure is now allowed in Britain. The mitochondria are not part of a cell’s nucleus but exist in the cytoplasm of the cell separate from the nucleus. Mitochondria are often referred to as the cell’s “power house” or “battery.” The mitochondrion does contain some genetic material: 37 out of our 20,000 genes.

A variety of mitochondrial diseases occur when these genes are missing or defective. It can be determined through genetic testing if a woman’s egg cell has defective mitochondrial genes. Let’s call this woman Sally. The idea of this procedure is to use a donor egg with no mitochondrial disease. Let’s call our donor Jane. You remove the nucleus from Jane’s egg. Now you have an egg cell with no nucleus and a healthy mitochondrion. You take the nucleus from Sally’s egg and transfer it into Jane’s egg. Now you have an egg cell with Sally’s nucleus and her 20,000 genes and Jane’s mitochondrion with her 37 genes. That’s the basics.

Now, there are two ways this procedure can be done. (See diagrams at this link.) 

  1. Maternal Spindle Transfer – This is pretty much what is described above. Neither Sally nor Jane’s eggs are fertilized. Fertilization with Joe’s sperm happens after the transfer of Sally’s nucleus into Jane’s egg cell. Joe’s sperm makes him the third “parent” of the resulting embryonic child. This child, then, has genetic “input” from Jane’s nucleus, Joe’s sperm, and a tiny amount from Sally’s mitochondrion. 

  1. Pronuclear Transfer – The first thing that happens here is that both Sally and Jane’s eggs are fertilized with Joe’s sperm. Now you are no longer working with two egg cells but with two embryonic children. The child from Sally’s egg will have mitochondrial disease. The child from Jane’s egg will not. Next you do the same as above. Before the nuclei (already fertilized) can accomplish their first cell division, Jane’s nucleus is removed and discarded. Sally’s fertilized nucleus is transferred into Jane’s cytoplasm with the good mitochondrion.

There are many problems with these procedures. Maternal Spindle Transfer raises these issues: 

  1. The nucleus is subject to harm in the transfer.

  2. There is uncertainty about genetic compatibility.

  3. There is uncertainty about genetic abnormalities and the introduction of mutations.

  4. The procedure violates the one-flesh union of marriage. “Three parents,” by definition, is contrary to God’s design.

  5. Not all the embryos produced may survive and, thus, there may be a violation of the Fifth Commandment against murder and hurting and harming.

  6. The First Commandment is always an issue in such technology. We fail to trust in God’s truth and put ourselves in the place of God.

The above problems are all inherent in Pronuclear Transfer as well. Plus, you definitely have the intentional destruction of human life inherent in this procedure. Many ethicists also oppose this technology because it might open the door to the creation of designer children.

While we can understand the great desire to prevent our children from contracting disease, we cannot resort to technology that does so at the cost of hurting and harming other children and violates God’s plan for procreation within the one-flesh union of marriage. 

Adoption would be a God-pleasing way of receiving the gift of children without introduction of life-threatening technology.