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The New Science Of Three-Parent Babies

Mixing DNA from three people to produce one healthy baby. We’ll look at the controversial world of mitochondrial manipulation therapies to avoid inherited disease.

An old model of a human mitochondria organelle. New regulations regarding manipulation of mitochondria could allow people with mitochondrial diseases to have disease-free children thanks to third-party chromosomes. (Flickr / Gregory Han)

An old model of a human mitochondria organelle. New regulations regarding manipulation of mitochondria could allow people with mitochondrial diseases to have disease-free children thanks to third-party chromosomes. (Flickr / Gregory Han)

Day two today of F.D.A. hearings on what you may have seen described in headlines as “three-parent babies.”  The genetic material of three adults combined to make one healthy baby.  Mom’s nuclear D.N.A., dad’s sperm, and mitochondrial D.N.A. from a donor, to avoid inheritable disease.  Backers say this reproductive technology will spare families from passing down suffering.  Maybe extend fertility for older moms.  Critics say this is the gateway to genetically modified human beings, high-tech eugenics, dystopia.  This hour On Point:  science, ethics, reproduction, and D.N.A. times three.

– Tom Ashbrook


Dina Fine Maron, associate editor at Scientific American. (@Dina_Maron)

Stefani Bush, singer, blogger and patient advocate. (@HopeRisingMusic)

Marcy Darnovsky, executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society.

Dr. James Grifo, program director of New York University’s Fertility Center.

From Tom’s Reading List

Scientific American: Making Babies with 3 Genetic Parents Gets FDA Hearing — “Reproductive technologies that marry DNA from three individuals will receive a trial in the court of public opinion this week. Such technologies may hold promise for averting certain genetically inherited diseases passed down via mutations to mitochondria, the cell’s battery pack.”

New York Times: Genetically Modified Babies — “Unfortunately, there are now worrisome signs that opposition to inheritable genetic modifications, written into law by dozens of countries, according to our count, may be weakening. British regulators are also considering mitochondrial manipulations, and proponents there, like their counterparts in the United States, want to move quickly to clinical trials.”

NBC News: New technique replaces diseased DNA, but would give kids two mothers –”A study published Wednesday in the journal Nature might offer a way to prevent children from inheriting such conditions in the future. Scientists in Oregon have found a way to remove the damaged genetic material and replace it with healthy DNA. The catch is it’s controversial, and children born using the technique would, technically, have three genetic parents. It’s just the kind of ethical debate that stopped such science dead in its tracks a decade ago.”

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  • Shag_Wevera

    Just a bad idea. We just shouldn’t go there. Eugenics, selective breeding, gender selection, the law of unintended consequences… Just a bad idea.

    • MarkVII88

      Selective breeding is nothing new and has gone on for thousands of years. Perhaps with revolutionary genetics, we will have more control over the outcomes and the inherent costs will limit its accessibility to only those who can afford it. What I think you’re afraid of is the active prevention of certain people from breeding. While I would not support that action you can’t argue with the fact that some people, whether because of economic factors or medical reasons, just should not have children.

    • tomstickler

      Is it “selective breeding” when a person chooses a more attractive mate, rather than a less attractive one? Or avoids choosing a mate from a family with a history of idiocy?

    • PoliticsWatcher

      “Just a bad idea.”

      Translation: I have no reasons for my beliefs.

  • brettearle

    Gives new meaning to the definition of Multiple Personality.

    • Don_B1

      The mitochondria are the little “subcells” within a cell where carbohydrates, fats and protein are converted to energy for the cell’s use. Unless it is learned that such activity contributes to the individual’s personality, other than what living with disability does, which may come up in today’s discussion, this is not a likely reason to prohibit this treatment.

      That is not to say there are not other valid reasons.

      • brettearle


        I enthusiastically take your point.

        What’s more, I often sincerely appreciate your contributions to the “On Point” forum.

        But with all due respects:

        What I said was meant as a satire.

        And, secondly, I majored in Biochemistry as an undergraduate, in college.

        • Don_B1

          Sorry! I haven’t had my morning coffee yet!

  • Expanded_Consciousness

    If I have three genetic parents, can I sue my third parent for child support and to be included in their will?

  • Clareita

    Anyone seriously contemplating this needs to ask themselves how important it is to pass on their genetic material. For someone with a mitochondrial disease who does not with to pass it on, why not use a donor egg?

    • MarkVII88

      As a corollary to your point on passing along (potentially deleterious) genetic material, is it any wonder why the numbers of people in need of public assistance are increasing, why the special needs of an increasing number of students in schools are growing more intense, and why the cost of living in our society is growing beyond our means to sustain it? Some people just should not have children. If they can personally afford the medical treatment and any lifelong supports required after birth, fine, but don’t create a situation where everyone else has to chip in to pay for your choice.

      • Fred_the_Dog

        There are more special needs children because we are good at helping them live longer lives, and there are more of us having children. The people who *shouldn’t* have children are the ones who neglect or abuse them. For everyone else, it’s a crapshoot whether or not they get a healthy child, because mutations *can* spontaneously arise even if neither parent is a carrier of something. Plus people aren’t always aware that they are.

      • hennorama

        MarkVII88 — it’s difficult to not “go off” on your comment, but I will make an attempt.

        First of all, few, if any, parents enjoy any guarantees that they “can personally afford the medical treatment and any lifelong supports required after birth,” regardless of their economic and genetic statuses at the conception of, and the birth of their offspring.

        Second, if the above is true, then exactly who should decide which “people just should not have children”? You?

        • MarkVII88

          Get off your high horse. You know it almost always comes down to dollars and cents in the end.

          • hennorama

            MarkVII88 — thank you for your response.

            That said, do you have any actual responses to the points made in [my original comment]?

    • John Roberts

      Question: Are donors of eggs currently screened for abnormal genetic backgrounds?

  • hennorama

    Any children produced from these techniques will be studied for their entire lifetimes, and will always know that they are the product of experimentation. It is difficult to predict what the psychological and other effects will be, especially if the technique is unsuccessful.

    Would such offspring be required to have some sort of identifying mark, such as a tattoo indicating they are Genetically Modified Organisms?

    The ethics and other aspects of these techniques must be explored much further, and human trials should not go forward at this time.

    Society needs to catch up with the science, as the implications of these techniques are many, and serious.

    • brettearle

      Very well said.

      And just think of the revolutionary changes in the psychological concepts of projection, co-dependency, and Identity.

    • Ray in VT

      Wasn’t there debate in some circles as to whether or not the test tube babies would have souls?

      • brettearle

        How about `should have’ instead of `would have’?–implying, of course, that BioTech will manufacture that too, if need be….

    • Don_B1

      The first test tube baby, Louise Joy Brown, now 35, is an example. I have not seen anything written about her that indicates what she thinks about her life and its origins, but if it exists, it would bear on your point.

      The interview with the woman and mother who lives with mitochondrial disease but would undergo the treatment for her children (and presumably her mother) also needs to be weighed in the balance, and though it is only one voice, there are probably a lot of others.

      But the issue is definitely a valid one!

      • Ray in VT

        But at this point is there a reason to think that she would have any sort of negative associations with how she was created? It is so relatively common now.

        • Don_B1

          That is a valid point, but it might well apply to recipients of this procedure in 35 years also.

          If there are not a lot of risks that were not apparent at this time, if there are side effects that are debilitating, there easily could be a negative reaction from the children from this procedure.

          But cancer patients regularly suffer from side effects of treatment and some regret it but many (most?) do not. Of course, that is the suffering patient’s decision, not their parents (at least most of the time when the patient is not a child).

      • hennorama

        Don_B1 — thank you for your thoughtful response.

        In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), wherein an egg is fertilized by sperm, outside the body, does not involve genetic modification.

  • J__o__h__n

    I don’t see the problem with designer babies. Why not have more intelligent and physically fit children? As long as the technology is available to all parents and not just the rich. We subsidize other reproductive services and this would likely pay off in the long run.

    • Ray in VT

      i don’t know. That is a level of tinkering that makes me highly uncomfortable. I think that there are some things that we could likely do to prevent the transmission of terrible genetic diseases. For instance, my brother’s former milkman had two out of his three kids born with CF. One passed away before he was 20. I am not sure about the other. I think that preventing such disease transmission would be a good thing, but gender selection, hair/air selection. That’s just, I think, a line that we need not cross.

      • J__o__h__n

        I agree there are ethical issues that will need to be resolved but I don’t think banning it is a good solution. I assume China and other countries are going to go forward with this so I doubt we can stop it even if we want to.

        • Ray in VT

          Yeah, I’m not sure that banning is a good route either. It’s a tricky ethical issue. I am sure that others will work on this, and perhaps they will come up with important discoveries that we will have given up on.

  • Fiscally_Responsible

    Sounds like Brave New World!

  • Yar

    So if two women decide to have a baby together, and by combining their DNA they can, you would say that is should be against the law?

    • J__o__h__n

      Even worse, they might want to buy a cake in Arizona.

      • hennorama

        J__o__h__n — you seem to be assuming that the two women in [Yar]‘s hypothetical are gay, yet the hypothetical made no mention of their sexual orientation.

        • J__o__h__n

          Wouldn’t the alleged religious freedom proponent cake baker make that assumption and deny them the cake?

          • brettearle

            And just think if it were an Alice B. Toklas cake….

          • hennorama

            J__o__h__n — possibly, but one supposes that any such denial would be based on the purpose of the cake, and how it might violate the baker’s freedom of religion.

  • Fred_the_Dog

    I work with children who have genetic disorders. If someone wants to spare a child of theirs pain, suffering, and an early death by ensuring they don’t carry the mutations that cause such difficulties, I’m good with that.

    • MarkVII88

      I’m not saying that the lives of the children you work with aren’t full, worth living, and enriching to those around them. But how much of the “sparing a child of their pain, suffering, and an early dealth” comes down to the parents’ choice to have the child in the first place. Many genetic disorders are screened for in parents up-front, especially if they have a family history. It’s not like many of these genetic disorders appear in these children out of the blue any more.

      • Fred_the_Dog

        Most of the parents of the kids and adults I work with were not aware they were carriers, because sometimes either the babies [of their forebears] died early and were not diagnosed, or it was too far back to know. Some few parents may have their genetics worked up in advance, but most don’t. We are better at diagnosing children at birth, though.

        Some of these parents had healthy children first, or had healthy children after the first was born. 1 in 4 chance for many if both parents are carriers.

      • Don_B1

        The in-womb screening leads to that “other hot controversy,” aborting a fetus that shows the disability. In a sense, I find that preferable to the parent simply not having children if they want them and are capable of being good parents.

        The alternative of adoption is a good one, but many adoptees also have genetic problems, which can overwhelm even the best of parents. The difference is that an adopted child already exists and will need extensive help with any genetic diseases for the rest of its life and deserves better than a state institution. But to ask every adopting parent to assume that risk?

  • Expanded_Consciousness

    I should be free to manipulate my genetic material. The government needs to stay out of my DNA.

  • Don_B1

    This only “improves ourselves” by removing a small subset of inheritable diseases that probably do not improve the whole species other than someone who would have been an Einstein got to live a more normal life without the mitochondrial diseases of its mother.

    • Expanded_Consciousness

      So, if it doesn’t improve the whole species then it doesn’t harm the whole species, so what is the big deal and scary threat?

      • Don_B1


        But there is no way it can harm the “whole species” though there is certainly an undetermined risk for the child of this treatment.

        The question is there enough known now to allow this procedure or should it be put off until more is known and the unknown risk is viewed as low enough.

        • John Elwer

          We won’t know the risks until we take the steps. That argument is a catch-22 to not move forward.

        • Expanded_Consciousness

          Underlying the debate is not just the risk to the child, it is the direction of this technology. If the procedure was perfectly safe for the child, there would still be a debate.

  • hennorama

    Dr. Grifo — you don’t help your case by dismissing criticisms as “ridiculous,” sir. Please keep in mind that the audience is not nearly as well-informed as you are, and would benefit from thoughtful and respectful discourse.

  • Alchemical Reaction

    The wealthy are going to do this anyway–even if it means breaking the law! better to regulate it, test it, and perfect it, legitimately, than to segregate the labs in countries without repressive laws and force the wealthy to go on fertility vacations out of the country, denying the US those jobs, the technology horizon, and the associated benefits of having that industry.

  • Yar

    There is no shortage of DNA. Watch out, Mitochondrial DNA will get a patent and when you show up with the patented variety you will have to buy your kids from Monsanto.

  • onpoint080

    Let the research proceed. Regulate and watch – it’s medical science. How ridiculous to question this! Would these people criticize transplants too?

    Stop the anti-science attitudes and safely and intelligently practice science and medicine.

    • Polonius Halo

      This is a form of medical therapy. Its important to continue to make progress; but proceed cautiously. As an identified carrier of Cystic Fibrosis I would have give a lot to reroute around this ‘bad’ gene that I carry when we were trying to have healthy, normal kids …

  • DrTing

    Maganous superoxide dismutase (MnSOD) is a mitochondrial enzyme which scavenges superoxide
    radicals (O2−in mitochondria. it’s gene from nuclear not from mitochondria (Science 242: 941) & mitochondrial manipulation therapies may not help.

  • Lindsay Reese

    Talk about the Selfish Gene. I have a PhD in neuroscience, worked at Oregon Health & Science University where the monkey work was done, and love research, but let’s focus on treating diseases rather than trying to propagate the genes of a select group of people.

  • Alchemical Reaction

    As long as corporations are not allowed to patent life, and everything created is done so with love, dignity and respect, then there is no problem.

    Basically, keep the rights associated with flesh and blood citizens, NOT CORPORATIONS.

  • Yar

    Ah, if you use a doctor, but if you don’t you owe child support.

  • John Roberts

    In a society where the cost of managing children born with genetic abnormalities is borne by ‘the collective’ (be it through private or government healthcare, education, social programs, etc), why not spare the parents and all tax payers the pain of an event that can be corrected? This is not a case of ‘designer babies’ – it’s a case of healthy children. This is analogous to having an amniotic fluid sample indicating Down’s syndrome, but doing nothing about it (if you could.)

    • MarkVII88

      I support your Point Of View on this. If (some of) the negative effects on society of someone’s selfish decision can be mitigated with a proven potential for long-term cost savings, then I say yes!

    • brettearle

      There is something to be said about following the laws of Nature–even if the consequences are dire, without such potential revolutionary intervention.

      Can there not be unintended consequences?

      I am merely taking the Devil’s Advocate, here, in this comment.

      But I see both sides.

    • hennorama

      John Roberts — in a society where we cannot agree whether a woman has a right to terminate a pregnancy, and whether or not she and/or her offspring have a right to receive medical treatment without regard to her ability to pay, you want to be able to intentionally modify the genetics of humans, based on the potential “cost of managing children born with genetic abnormalities”?


  • lexpublius

    Has the physician researcher considered doing his work overseas in a nation friendly to his important work?

  • rich4321

    What’s wrong with genetic manipulation? From medical point of view, people do born with genetic deficiency which leads to a life long misery of health and/or mental issues. Why not get it right from the beginning?

    • brettearle

      The issue is Unintended Consequences–which obtains with any new Technology.

      I’m sure we could both name a few Technologies from our current and past paradigms that fit such a dilemma.

  • J__o__h__n


    • John Elwer


    • Ray in VT

      I thought of that too, but of course the science here doesn’t really look to be headed in the direction of the Eugenics Wars of the 21st century or the lebensborn program.

  • Expanded_Consciousness

    Short-sighted thinking. In the long run, other countries will get ahead of us. We must stay ahead of the science and technology curve.

    • hennorama

      Expanded_Consciousness — please explain your reasoning, specifically related to these techniques.

      • brettearle

        Ya, know Henn….regardless of what “Expanded” may be thinking, I am reminded of the comment in “Strangelove” [one of our favorites],

        “We can’t afford a Doomsday Gap!”‘

        It may be a stretch [pun intended on gene splicing], but from that standpoint, such thinking might be somewhat justified.

        • hennorama

          brettearle — there are myriad possible comedic and satirical points to be made on this topic, and I appreciate your injections of levity, despite your first one having been misunderstood.

          As they say, dying is easy …

          • brettearle

            Injections of Levity should be a required vaccination, mandated by the CDC.

          • hennorama

            brettearle — it’s unclear whether the Centers for Diverse Comedy would agree to any such mandates, or womandates, for that matter.

            Thanks again for splicing up the conversations.

          • brettearle

            Once again Hennorama proves his Mettle as a Wordsmith.

          • hennorama

            brettearle — thank you for your kind words, but I dunno about mettle … I just ttel ‘em as I sse ‘em.

  • MadMarkTheCodeWarrior

    Will genetic manipulation be within the reach of any of us listeners?

    We will have the best healthcare that money can buy and the least efficient system for delivering it…good luck to any average person having that kind of money. Healthcare IS indeed rationed… By the labor market!

  • MarkVII88

    Will this procedure ever be covered by Medicaid? Will doctors ever accept a Medicaid-level reimbursement for such a procedure? How will a future, theoretical, national, single-payer health care system view this procedure and will all plans be required to include coverage for it?

  • Yar

    At home in bed every day? I had three genetic manipulations in my lifetime, it is life altering as well.

  • DrTing

    Treating Disease and Improving Drug SafetyTargeting MitochondrialDysfunction & Toxicity
    March 19-20, 2014, Boston, MA

    I am not the organizer.CHI conference may help understand why it is more important to turn on your Mitochondrial protective genes from your nuclei not from donor mitochondria.

  • Alchemical Reaction

    The reality is – you can’t treat genetic disease WITHOUT opening up the possibility of designer babies. Science marches on in countries without repressive laws. Does the US want the jobs and the credit????????

    • hennorama

      Alchemical Reaction — the implications of intentional genetic modification of children and their descendants go far beyond short-term concerns about “the jobs and the credit.”

      • Alchemical Reaction

        I never said I believe short term concerns outweigh long term concerns… The decision makers don’t care about long term concerns. They care about making money for stockholders.

        • hennorama

          Alchemical (Delayed) Reaction — thank you for your response. Please excuse my quip, as I rarely get replies so long after posting a comment.

          My interpretation of you comment, and especially your punctuation, may have been inaccurate. Perhaps we will both communicate better in any future interactions.

          Thanks again for your response, and best wishes.

  • adks12020

    I don’t understand why everyone expects to be able to have children. I know it’s very depressing if you want to have children and can’t; I’ve seen it in my own family….but…. that has been the case throughout human history and we are still overpopulating the earth. What happens if techniques like these become commonplace and every woman is able to have children? There is more to life than reproduction.

    • John Elwer

      We expand to the stars…

    • hennorama

      adks12020 — in addition, there is no guarantee of success for these techniques. What happens if it is unsuccessful? Are the embryos destroyed? And if children are produced and still have the defects that were supposed to be corrected, what happens then?

    • MarkVII88

      In many cases when selfish decisions are made that negatively impact another, or a group of people, there are civil penalties that result. Think civil lawsuits for negligent actions/behaviors. These same types of consequences are generally not on the table when it comes to having kids though.

    • brettearle

      Unfortunately, as we often know, men and women ignore the remarkable number of things that are offered in Life–in order to have children…..

      …….and they have children, not always because they love other human beings or because they are well-suited for it; but rather to shore up their identity as adults.

      Yes, it’s instinctive. But sometimes a major and unanticipated risk and consequence can take place–by actually having children and trying to raise them successfully.

  • TennesseeBarJournal

    Here is more information, from the American Bar Association, about the hearing on Tuesday before a panel of the Food and Drug Administration: http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/three-parent_in_vitro_mulled_by_fda_panel_critics_see_possibility_of_design/?utm_source=maestro&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=daily_email

  • Yar

    Weigh the risks, should you take tylenol while pregnant? Should men drink alcohol in the weeks or months before having sex? This is straining at the gnat!

    • brettearle

      Should I not write this comment because I might finally develop carpal tunnel syndrome?

      • Yar

        I should not decide for you.

        • brettearle

          Don’t tell me that you were actually taking me seriously.

          • Yar

            No, my point is that those who attempt to prevent research are trying to decide for the rest of us. We strain at research that may help and ignore all the other risks to having kids. The pro fetus crowd wants to regulate behavior (of women), and ignore everything else.

          • brettearle

            Senator Orrin Hatch discovered that Stem Cell Research could potentially help someone in his family afflicted with–was it ALS or MS?….

            When he realized this, he the supported research.

            Who’s Genetic Ox is being gored?

  • majorml

    The doctor highlights the reason for proceeding with his research is the suffering of older women who cannot have children with their own genes. I am sure they are suffering, but is this the way to deal with their suffering? Society has gotten to the point where it is no longer a societal shame not to have children. If these women adopted children, the total human suffering would be decreased much more. If they spent their time being a Big Brother or Big Sister, human suffering would be decreased much more. These women would discover the joys of contributing to another’s life as a way of making themselves happier. They could use the
    many hundreds of thousands of dollars they would spend on raising a child to do other good in the world.The suffering of women who cannot have babies is real, but counseling them so that their their evolutionary desire to reproduce (and their egos) are given some perspective.

    • brettearle

      Excellent points.

      I wish more people thought, like you do, about these essential issues.

      Ego vs Instincts is a remarkable dynamic.

  • John_Hamilton

    I don’t have a problem with introducing mitochondria into an embryo to repair gene mutations, but we might want to ask the question of what in our environment, other than normal evolutionary mutations, is causing diseases like cancer in the parents and deformations in their children.

    To take a simple example, we learned from veterans returning from Vietnam that the herbicide 2, 4-D (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic_acid), also known as Dioxin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dioxins_and_dioxin-like_compounds), which were used in the infamous Agent Orange, caused both cancer in parents and horrible mutations in their children. 60 Minutes did a segment once about the damage it did to the Vietnamese people.

    In spite of this knowledge, 2, 4-D is still used in lawn chemicals and in agriculture. This is but one example. Nuclear power, the chemical industry in general, and the toxic mix of chemicals spewed from smokestacks and exhausts pipes all are factors in genetic damage and disease, including asthma, allergies, autoimmune disorders, and a wide variety of cancers.

    As a people, an informed public, we somehow are incapable of removing harmful substances from our production and consumption systems, no matter the harm they cause. We all have lost friends and relatives by now because of this inability. Instead, we look for pharmaceutical, surgical, and radiological fixes that we hope will remove or minimize the harm. Indeed, we all by now have experience friends and/or relatives who have died after having what amounts to religious faith in treatments like chemotherapy, radiation “therapy,” and drastic surgery to “cure” a disease that they shouldn’t have gotten in the first place.

    The real question here is when we will wake up. I suspect not any time soon. Propaganda control is too strong at the present time, with conventional wisdom reigning supreme in our mass communications industry, in government, the universities, and, of course, in our corporations.

    • brettearle

      Excellent summary. And an important one.

      And yet the Irony is that we are living longer.

      [Of course, we could live even longer.]

      • John_Hamilton

        Stay tuned on the living longer myth. Global climate change will change all our conventional wisdom. As I seem to be saying in response to every segment of this show, the Western approach of looking at things in isolation – reductionism – leads to such things as projecting trends far into the future as if nothing else in the universe has any effect whatsoever.

        So if people on average are living longer now, they will live even longer in the future. The trend approaches an asymptote of living forever. According to TV newscasters, who in wide-eyed omniscience tell us all about the future, there is no limit on human longevity.

  • Peter Nozawa Thurwachter

    With the increasing costs of sending a kid to college etc. Having society gradually become accepting of having many parents support 1 child seems like a great way to split this burden and perhaps allow us to tap the breaks on population growth sooner than later.

  • hennorama

    Ari in VT — there’s not really much of a question as to whether these techniques can be done, as they have already been successfully used on higher primates.

    Instead, the question is should it be done. The implications of intentional and inheritable genetic modification of humans are quite serious, and society at large has not yet answered all of the ethical and other questions.

    • Ari in VT

      Sorry if you misunderstood my first statement.

      I wasn’t questioning “if” it can be done; I was stating
      that anything that can be done will be done so you cannot effectively ban a technology. So discussing whether or not it should be done is pointless, it will be done. We need to discuss how to mitigate its unintended consequences and dangers.

      There is no doubt that technology has always been a double edged sword, the first stone tools also made great weapons and the first
      fires that cooked our food and protected us at night also burned out our

      Technology is advancing exponentially whether we want it to or not. Even the exponent is increasing exponentially. Better to try to live with it than try to deny it. Knowledge is never evil in and of itself, only how people
      choose to apply it.

      Would rather the guys with the white coats stay ahead of the black hats. Not developing potentially dangerous technology will not protect you from that technology nor will it prevent anyone else from developing it either. Worse, if that technology can be weaponized its akin to unilateral disarmament.

      • hennorama

        Ari in VT — I understood your inevitability argument, and don’t disagree with that point. I also don’t disagree that these techniques “could be equally dangerous and beneficial,” and am not proposing a ban.

        My point is that society at large seems unaware of these techniques, and their potential dangers and benefits. As such, there should be wider and more frequent discussions about these matters before the techniques are perfected for use in humans.

        Once the techniques are perfected, these considerations become less germane, as the techniques will already be “in the open.”

        I certainly empathize with and have compassion for those suffering from the effects of mitochondrial diseases, and realize that a delay in investigating the potential of these techniques may mean an extension of their suffering. This is no small thing.

        It’s also no small thing to intentionally modify the genetics of humans. Further and wider discussions are needed.

        • Ari in VT

          I agree that discussions are needed.

  • hennorama

    DB — thank you for sharing your difficult story.

    Given the rarity of triplets, one question arises: were there any fertility drugs or other conception-enhancing techniques involved? (Please feel free to not answer this if you find the question at all inappropriate.)

    Personal experiences clearly have a bearing on one’s opinions of these topics, but society at large has not yet answered all of the ethical and other questions involved in the intentional and inheritable genetic modification of humans.

    Best wishes to you and your family, and thank you again for sharing such a difficult story.

  • HonestDebate1

    This is another example of the diligence required to deal with the constant collision course always present between ethics and technology. We can worry and protest all we want but the genie is out of the bottle. Technology rolls on whether or not the ethical side of the equation keeps up.

  • Rolf Goetzinger

    In our 12-year old daughters situation, I wished the outcome would have been different too, but working with her geneticist, we have learned that that this might give people a false hope. There a many reasons for mito disorders, which may have nothing to do with family history.

    I would rather concentrate gene therapy to help those living with it.

    • PoliticsWatcher

      How is that any different?

  • AP

    The argument stated by your guest regarding the unknown risks of studying the procedure seems to completely ignore the known near 100% risk of passing on mitochondrial disease without intervention.

  • Matthew Nisbet

    An open-access study we published last week at PLOS ONE may be of interest to listeners of this episode. In the study we analyzed nearly a decade of public opinion data about stem cell research to better understand how the public will react to future scientific advances such as “three parent” or “GMO” babies. Below are links to the study and several commentaries we wrote summarizing the study and discussing the implications.

    –Nisbet, M.C. & Markowitz, E. (2014). Understanding Public Opinion in Debates Over Biomedical Research: Looking Beyond Partisanship to Focus on Beliefs about Science and Society. PLoS ONE 9(2): e88473.


    –Nisbet, M.C. & Markowitz, E. (2014, Feb. 19). Opinions about Scientific Advances Blur Party/Political Lines. The Conversation UK.


    –Nisbet, M.C. & Markowitz, E. (2014, Feb. 18). Beyond Partisanship in Biopolitics. The Scientist Magazine.


    –The Public Square blog: Our Biopolitics Future: Public Debates Will Blur Left/Right Differences.


    • PoliticsWatcher

      Why the encrypted URLs?

  • hennorama

    MarkVII88 — thank you for your thoughtful response.

    I disagree with reducing the concerns and arguments about these issues to purely economic ones.

    A few comments:

    Your ideas seem to presuppose universal genetic testing of potential parents, as well as mandatory use of available techniques to “correct” Nature, and prevent possible genetic diseases.

    (You wrote “…should this technology become more widespread it should be used…” [emphasis mine])

    All of this, in order to, as you wrote, “save the trouble, heartache, and expense to individuals and society as a whole when there is a need to support humans born with (potentially avertable) genetic diseases.”

    FYI: hard data is lacking, but estimates indicate 1,000 to 4,000 children per year are born with mitochondrial defects in the US each year, out of about 4 million births.

    Please correct any misconceptions.


  • PoliticsWatcher

    What a bunch of nonsense. Why should you doom my child to a lifetime of disease? Because you’re afraid that somewhere, somebody will have a baby that’s smarter and cuter than yours?

    Have all the dumb, ugly babies you want. But don’t tell me you have the right to make my child sick.

  • georgepotts

    What is the difference between taking genetic material from a third party in human reproduction and GMO foods?

    Is it a difference without a distinction?

  • eeka

    Why are we spending so much time and money on creating more people when overpopulation is such a problem? Not only that, but there are 110,000 children waiting for adoptive families in the US. Most are young and healthy. It’s disturbing that people are so obsessed with passing on their own DNA that they will spend tons of money on risky procedures that we don’t know will actually produce healthy children.

  • marygrav

    The problem that parents are having with Congress is that Americans always have sex on the brain. They see the 3 egg solution as a Manague de twa, not as science.

  • Gary Dorst

    When Albert Einstein published his seminal work on Special Relativity in 1905 that described mass-energy equivalence with the equation E=mc2, the fundamental secret that an atomic bomb could be constructed was out for the world of physics to see. Same too with genetic engineering of which this is one of the first, early steps in that process.

    No matter what you think or believe, what you believe is and is not moral and ethical, the knowledge is now out there. And it will be used.

    I know that Marcy Darnovsky would like to terminate all work in this area. But that will not happen. There are too many governments and private interests that will insure this work will continue because of the potential benefits and potential edges to be gained by developing it. Knowing this, how do we manage what the future will bring … because it will come.

  • http://www.kathleensworld.com/ Kathleen Hoppe

    Like Stefani, I am a mom with mitochondrial disease, which was not something doctors even had on their radar until I the mid 90s, when I already had children.
    Marcy and others who think like her tend to go immediately for the worse case scenario of genetic manipulation. But she seems not to understand that the same arguments were used against “test tube babies” back in the day. No doubt she opposes them also. But having maintained a website for nearly 20 years on mito disease, I have heard from hundreds of families who have gone through untold suffering.
    For those of us who have other kids who are healthy, as I do, I want my daughters (who carry my mtDNA) to have the option of using healthy DNA. I do agree with commenter “eeka” that adoption is the BEST option, but there are people who won’t go there. Since that is different topic, I will leave that there.
    I think this is an issue that will one day seem as mundane to most as in-vitro fertilization. There will always be the-sky-is-falling types like Marcy, most of whom will claim a god as their basis for opposing new technologies.
    If Marcy had an ounce of compassion, she would confess that she has selfish reasons, not science based ones, for her stance. Thank you to the scientists and physicians and genetic counselors who seek to make the healthiest families possible.

Sep 2, 2014
U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., talks with Mark Wilson, event political speaker chairperson, with his wife Elain Chao, former U.S. Secretary of Labor, at the annual Fancy Farm Picnic in Fancy Farm, Ky., Saturday, August 4, 2012. (AP)

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