And baby makes four
So, the UK is set to be a world leader, with IVF treatment allowing the creation of babies using DNA from three people! The Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, assures us that the third party mitochondrial contribution is so small that genetically it will make no difference. Apart, that is, from eliminating susceptibility to life threatening disease.
On the face of it, I have to admit this sounds fantastic! Who wouldn’t want to get rid of defective genes? But there are several things that worry me about this potential. First, it’s a pretty safe bet that we all of us somewhere carry defective genes, as witness the recent publicity over breast cancer, long established to have genetic links. And what about heart disease, blood pressure, high cholesterol, asthma … bunions? The list is endless, and where are we going to draw the line?
And if we’re going to eliminate susceptibility to all these unpleasant and, in some cases, life threatening conditions, how about, while we’re at it, just adding a couple of inches extra height? Being only five foot one and a half inches myself, I say this with real feeling, because it can be a real pain having to turn up clothes all the time, and where’s the harm? And while we’re at it, how about smaller ear lobes, or bigger breasts? After all, if you’re going to be fiddling round in a specific area anyway, why not just carry on and make a few improvements?
No, whatever the assurances given by bland faced scientists, it seems to me that eugenics is only a biological (as described by Dame Sally) ‘power-station’ away.
Speaking of which, we’re told the treatment requires use of a donor egg. Sounds simple, but where are the doctors going to get these eggs from? After all, you can’t exactly nip into the nearest supermarket and buy half a dozen. In fact, my understanding from IVF treatment is that acquiring a woman’s eggs requires extensive and invasive treatment, with the menstrual cycle being hormonally adjusted for optimum egg production, and then a rather uncomfortable retrieval process. I imagine the answer to the question will be, ‘Oh, we’ll give free IVF to women who let us use their spare eggs!’ But somehow, to me, this feels as if yet again babies, and potential babies, are being treated as ‘things’. I would say valueless things, but pretty clearly these eggs are financially worth a lot. To recipients, to clinics … and to the national economy. After all, there must be a reason the government wants us to become a world leader.
So do I think this is good news? Actually, no. I’m a mother myself and I can well understand the wish to keep one’s child healthy and free from disease – watching a child suffer is horrendous, and I fully share the desire to protect my children. But I know that I have ‘defective’ areas myself and, when I look back at history, I see that some of the greatest individuals, who have had lasting and good impact on the lives of all of us, have had to battle terrible problems. In fact, in many cases, their physical condition seems to have been formative in making them the people they were. So if we produce all these physically perfect people, will we be helping or impoverishing humanity? Will we really be helping or impoverishing them?
It seems to me a profound irony that Hitler, rabid destroyer of the flawed and imperfect, was himself, to put it politely, physically challenged. So here’s a thought – perhaps, before euphorically welcoming this latest advance, people might ask whether they themselves would survive in this brave new world? Perhaps too they should ask if they would want to.