The lay press has reported on two stories this week that both relate to “designing babies,” although only one of these reports is about producing “designer babies.” The two new technologies, neither yet utilized in a human population, raise different ethical questions, but I, for one, am more troubled by the prospect of a “designer baby” than I am by the possibility of designing, or creating an embryo, free of its mother’s mitochondrial disease.
National Public Radio (NPR) reported on the advances in treating mitochondrial disease with its story that embryologists are now capable of creating an embryo with maternal DNA but with another woman’s mitochondria, thus allowing women with serious mitochondrial diseases to have healthy offspring. The ethical issues are twofold. This would be the first time we would change the genetics of an embryo, and this change could be passed on to its offspring as well (but only to female offspring because mitochondria are passed along the maternal line by way of the mitochondria in the ovum). Some ethicists have argued that manipulating the genetics of the human genome in a transmissible way is a “bright line” that should not be crossed because if the procedure created any new genetic mistakes, these too would be heritable.
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