Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Some Quick facts about 3 Parent Embryos and Why It is Immoral

A while ago, Rebecca Taylor posted on the Creative Minority Report regarding the general lack of response to the news the that UK has now approved for the creation of 3 parent embryos using two cloning techniques. I, too, passed over the issue because I had thought that it was a routine IVF issue, and also because of the business of medical school.

However, when the Straits Times, the local Singapore paper, decided to hold a discussion on their Facebook page as to how far should ethical Institutions be involved in Scientific and Medical Advancements. The ignorant and impulsive comments on the page prompted me to look deeper into the process of creating these 3 person embryos and I got the shock of my life! One of the procedures involves cloning and the destruction of human life. This has been sold as 'modified IVF techniques'. The entire thing is so evil and disgusting.

Further during my research, it dawned on me how right Ms Taylor was in pointing out the lack of a response. Apart from the usual news articles reporting that the law had been approved, there has been little to no discussion in Catholic circles regarding the procedure and its implications. This is very disturbing. The first Catholic article I found that delved into the issue was two years old.

Hence, I have created this little fact sheet to provide some brief facts on the issue. Now, I am no expert in any of these fields, I am just a stupid medical student, however, I have tried to provide, to the best of my knowledge and ability, a brief summary of the ideas and issues at stake. I have also concentrated on the ethical side of the problem and I haven't delved into the scientific concerns, which are a multitude.

It is my hope that with clearer picture of what is going on, more people will do their part to stop this dreadful evil thing from happening. If anyone has any suggestions on how to improve the fact sheet or would like to help jazz it up and turn it into a poster, please feel free to email me. Unfortunately, because of school, I do not have time to beautify it.

Short Facts about 3 Parent Embryos and Why it is Immoral


  • Research into cloning, IVF, and mitochrondrial replacement have been going on for nearly 3 decades.
  • On 4th Feb 2015, MPs in the House of Commons voted to allow the therapeutic use of two cloning techniques put forth by the British Human Feritilisation and Embryo Authority (HFEA) for the treatment of inherited mitochondrial disease.(1)
  • On the 24th Feb 2015, the House of Lords also approves this new law.(2)
  • The two techniques are Pronuclear Transfer (PNT) and Maternal Spindle Transfer (MST)

Inherited Mitochondrial Disease(3, 4)

  • Rare disease part of a larger group of Mitochondrial diseases
  • In England, 1 in 15,200 persons are affected
  • Involves mutations of the Mitochondria, which are the power plants of the cell.
  • They are also involved in a great number of systems, such as hearing, vision, pancreatic function, and neuromascular activity.
  • They are also involved in direct development and differentiation of cells.(5)
  • Mitochondria are the major site of metabolism where energy is produced for the cell to carry out its various tasks. Mutations can cause them to cease functioning, resulting in various defects around the body.
  • Mitochondria are mostly inherited from the mother. Thus inheritance is largely maternal in nature.
Fig 1.1 Diagram demonstrating the Pronuclear Transfer Technique.(6)

Pronuclear Transfer(PNT) Technique (see Fig 1.1)(7)
  • This involves two embryos, one is a donor embryo, and the other is the embryo with the defective mitochondria. 
  • These embryos are created by in vitro fertilisation
  • The donor embryo and ‘defective’ embryo are enucleated, that is their nuclei are removed from the cells. This destroys both embryos.
  • The donor nucleus is discarded and the nucleus of the ‘defective’ embryo is injected into the cytoplasm of the donor embryo’s cell.
  • This new embryo, essentially a clone of the ‘defective’ embryo but with the donor embryo’s mitochondria, is then implanted into the mother’s uterus.

Fig 1.2 Diagram demonstrating the Maternal Spindle Transfer Technique.(6)

Maternal Spindle Transfer(MST) Technique (Fig 1.2)(7)
  • Two eggs are harvested, one from the donor, one from the mother with defective mitochondria
  • The eggs are placed under birefringent polarised light to visualise the mitotic spindle containing the nucleus of each egg.
  • These are then removed, enucleating each egg.
  • The donor nucleus is discarded, and the mother’s nucleus is injected into the cytoplasm of the donor’s egg. This is essentially cloning the mother’s egg.
  • This new egg is then fertilised and implanted into the mother.

Why Catholics Cannot Support This
  • PNT results in the loss of two human lives. ‘It is gravely immoral to sacrifice a human life for therapeutic ends.’ – Dignitas personae, 2008(8) 
  • PNT involves the cloning of a human being, that of the embryo with the mitochondrial defect.
  • The Catholic Church is wholly opposed to cloning of Human beings, noting that ‘the manner in which a cloned human being has been brought into the world would mark that person….an instrument of someone else's will rather than an end in himself or herself, a replaceable consumer commodity rather than an unrepeatable event in human history. Thus, disrespect for the dignity of the human person is inherent in cloning.'(9)
  • The final step of the process involves using the techniques of In-Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) to implant the new embryo into the uterus of the mother. IVF has already been condemned by several Popes. It is a grave sin.
  • ‘Artificial insemination as a substitute for the conjugal act is prohibited by reason of the voluntarily achieved dissociation of the two meanings of the conjugal act…"It lacks the sexual relationship called for by the moral order, namely the relationship which realizes 'the full sense of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love'’ – Donum Vitae, 1987(10)
  • During IVF, it is common for many embryos to be created, and in the process, many are destroyed. 

Other Issues
  • These children may grow up without mitochondrial disease, however, there maybe at risk of other problems, such as an increase risk of cancer.(10)
  • Recent studies show IVF children are at an increased risks of birth defects compared to normally conceived children.(11)
  • Genetically Modified Children created through these two techniques maybe at greater risk of these defects as the cells itself are tampered with.
  • Allowing these techniques will fully open the door to the acceptance of human cloning and outright experimentation of human embryos.
  • The Child will have three biological parents, one father and two mothers, which may lead to many future psychological issues. This also raises legal and ethical issues as who has the right to raise the child.
  • This is unprecedented experimentation on human beings.

For a more complete discussion of the ethic issues regarding 3 parent embryos, please read the Catholic Medical Association (UK)’s article on the procedures here, and Prof. Stuart A. Newman's article, and also Rebecca Taylor's blog on the issue

1.         Gallagher J. MPs say yes to three-person babies: BBC News; 2015 [15th March  2015]. Available from: http://www.bbc.com/news/health-31069173.
2.         Knapton S. Three-parent babies: House of Lords approves law despite fears children could be born sterile: The Telegraph; 2015 [15 March 2015]. Available from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/science-news/11432058/Three-parent-babies-House-of-Lords-approves-law-despite-fears-children-could-be-sterile.html.
3.         Genge A, Massie R. Mitochondrial structure, function, and genetics: UpToDate; 2014 [updated 18 November 2013; cited 2015 15 March]. Available from: http://www.uptodate.com/contents/mitochondrial-structure-function-and-genetics.
4.         Genge A, Massie R. Mitochondrial myopathies: Clinical features and diagnosis: UpToDate; 2014 [updated 7 July 2014; cited 2015 16 March]. Available from: http://www.uptodate.com/contents/mitochondrial-myopathies-clinical-features-and-diagnosis?source=see_link.
5.         Kasahara A, Scorrano L. Mitochondria: from cell death executioners to regulators of cell differentiation. Trends in Cell Biology. 2014;24(12):761-70.
6.         U.K. Human Fertility and Embryo Authority. Third scientific review of the safety and
efficacy of methods to avoid mitochondrial
disease through assisted conception:
2014 update. 2014.
7.         Amato P, Tachibana M, Sparman M, Mitalipov S. Three-parent in vitro fertilization: gene replacement for the prevention of inherited mitochondrial diseases. Fertility and sterility. 2014;101(1):31-5.
8.         Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Instruction Dignitas Personae on Certain Biological Questions: Vatican; 2008 [cited 2015 16 March]. Available from: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20081208_dignitas-personae_en.html.
9.         Document of the Holy See on Human Cloning: Vatican; 2004 [cited 2015 16 March]. Available from: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/secretariat_state/2004/documents/rc_seg-st_20040927_cloning_en.html.
10.       Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Donum Vitae: Vatican; 1987 [cited 2015 16 March]. Available from: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19870222_respect-for-human-life_en.html.
11.       Knapton S. Three-parent babies could be at greater risk of cancer, warn scientists: The Telegraph; 2015 [cited 2015 16 March]. Available from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/science-news/11385370/Three-parent-babies-could-be-at-greater-risk-of-cancer-warn-scientists.html.
12.       Hansen M, Kurinczuk JJ, Milne E, de Klerk N, Bower C. Assisted reproductive technology and birth defects: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Human Reproduction Update. 2013;19(4):330-53.

1 comment:

  1. Woah.
    Thank you for posting this, David.
    **shares prolifically**