“This is my dad, my mom… and my other mom.”
by Alina Chrzaszczkowa on February 10, 2015 - 5:25pm
In vitro fertilization, or IVF, is a practice that has raised several ethical questions since its introduction. IVF is essentially the fertilization of an egg in a controlled environment outside the body, after which the fertilized egg is then replaced into a woman’s uterus (“In Vitro Fertilization: IVF”). The practice is common for infertile individuals wishing for offspring (“In Vitro Fertilization: IVF”). Normal IVF uses genetic information from one man and one woman (“In Vitro Fertilization: IVF”). However, just a few days ago, the United Kingdom passed a law that allows for three-person IVF (Gallagher). This method, developed to help prevent the birth of children with defective mitochondria, uses genetic material from a man and two women (Gallagher). Weak mitochondria are passed down from the mother, therefore, by implementing three-person IVF, genetic information from another woman with healthy mitochondria are passed onto the foetus instead (Oelbaum). This could potentially subvert many inherited genetic disorders, and could lead to their elimination in the long term (Gallagher). While this certainly sounds like a good cause- improving the odds of the births of healthy children- some people have misgivings about the process. Most scientists are strongly supportive of the procedure and what it could mean for the health of future generations, however, opponents bring up the troubling idea of a culture of ‘model babies’, and what effects such direct tampering in the creation of life could have on future generations (Gallagher).
The problem here can be viewed in a variety of perspectives. From a utilitarian perspective (which dictates that an action is moral if it brings about the most happiness (Merrill)), three-person IVF could be considered morally just, as eliminating a severe disorder will most likely bring about happiness not only to the child, but also entire families. Deontology tells us that ethics is based on higher duty (Merrill). If we decide that we also would have liked someone to use their scientific means to save us, personally, from a disorder, we could argue that IVF is ethical. From a teleological perspective, we would have to consider all the possible outcomes of this procedure becoming an accepted, common practise (Merrill). If the ultimate goal is a healthier population with fewer genetic disorders in the gene pool, then the procedure could be considered ethically righteous. However, does the end always justify the means? It is not difficult to see how having the power to manipulate one’s genetic characteristics from the moment of conception- literally- could raise a few eyebrows. We could now bring up the concern of the possibility of someone conditioning future generations to exhibit certain select traits- a power that will have a direct impact on that generations’ lives. Are we justified in believing we have the moral authority to dictate and manipulate the physical and mental characteristics of future individuals? There is also the gene pool to consider; with genetic information now coming from three different sources, the risk of inbreeding will probably be much more likely- and this could potentially give rise to new types of genetic disorders emerging.
It is difficult to work our way around all the side effects that might be the result of three-person IVF as the procedure is new and its long-term consequences are unexplored, but it also has the potential of offering many people healthy lives.
Gallagher, James. “MPs say yes to three-person babies.” BBC News Health. BBC News. 3 Feb. 2015. Web. 9 Feb. 2015.
“In Vitro Fertilization: IVF.” Americanpregnancy.org. American Pregnancy Association. n.d. Web. 8 Feb. 2015.
Merrill, John C. “Theoretical Foundations for Media Ethics.” Media Ethics. 345-LPH-MS. Sarah Waurechen. Eastman Systems Inc. 2015. Print.
Oelbaum, Jed. “U.K. Legalizes Three-Parent In Vitro Fertilization.” Good Magazine News. Good Magazine. 9 Feb. 2015. Web. 9 Feb. 2015.