Hilliard, a nurse educator and former state health care regulator with a master’s degree in maternal child health nursing, as well as canon law, noted the egg donor’s own child is “engendered and destroyed” in the process, which she characterized as “an abuse of that donor, regardless of the perceived ‘good.’” Egg donation poses health risks to the donor, typically a young woman. Possible side effects of ovarian hyper-stimulation drugs include polycystic ovary disease, which can lead to infertility.
David Albert Jones, director of the Anscombe Bioethics Centre, reflected on the news that a baby had been born as a result of the technique.
“Every child newly conceived is to be welcomed and we hope this new human life brings joy to his or her parents, but some way of conceiving children involve risks or harms to the child,” said Jones, who is a bioethics professor at St. Mary’s University, Twickenham. “This is a new and unnecessary technique that does not add to the safety of IVF involving an egg donor but adds further risks.”
The Anscombe Bioethics Centre voiced concern that the new baby will lack any sure knowledge of the egg donor’s identity. The center characterized the transfer of nuclear DNA as “a form of genetic engineering which affects the human germline” and so any changes will be inherited by future generations. The bioethics center warned of unforeseen consequences in the relationship between the transplanted cell nucleus and the mitochondria. The interaction of the mitochondrial genome and the nuclear genome has “pervasive effects on cellular and organismal functioning,” the center said.
Dagan Wells, a professor of reproductive genetics at the University of Oxford, took part in the research. Wells told The Guardian that the risks of the procedure include “reversion.” This is when a small number of diseased or abnormal mitochondria are carried over from the original embryo into the final embryo. This can still lead to mitochondrial disease.
For Wells, the clinical experience with mitochondrial replacement therapy has been “encouraging” but not enough is yet known to reach conclusions about the process’ safety or efficacy.
“Long-term follow-up of the children born is essential,” Wells told The Guardian. Academic publications on the process have been submitted for peer review.
In Hilliard’s understanding, the technique used in the U.K. is currently illegal in the U.S.
“However, numerous other in vitro engendering and manipulating of human life methods continue, ultimately denying life to the less ‘perfect’ embryo. Again, this is an assault on all of humanity,” she told CNA.
“Such manipulation of human life should be prohibited,” she said. In her view, there is a “significant need” for animal research that does not destroy human beings at their most vulnerable stage of life. She also pointed to advances in gene therapy as another promising path for ethical research.
The U.K. baby is not the first to be born using an IVF/mitochondrial donation treatment. In 2016, a U.S.-based medical team announced the birth of a boy who was born after they implanted a modified embryo into a Jordanian woman’s womb in Mexico to avoid a U.S. ban. The embryo modification drew serious criticism and the medical team still ran afoul of American regulators because the embryo had been modified in the U.S. and then exported to Mexico.
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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration bans this form of embryo modification as illegal “human subject research.” As of 2018, the boy appeared to be free of mitochondrial disease, the Washington Post reported.
Kevin J. Jones is a senior staff writer with Catholic News Agency. He was a recipient of a 2014 Catholic Relief Services' Egan Journalism Fellowship.