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Clones and three parent babies: crossing an ethical line


(Vatican Radio) Do people in Britain want to see genetically modified babies such as children being born with two genetic mothers? This is essentially the question at the heart of an ongoing government consultation over whether to allow two possible techniques intended to eliminate mitrochondrial diseases through genetic engineering of embryos. One of the techniques would result in babies being born with three genetic parents, the so-called three-parent IVF. The other technique being considered is a form of cloning that involves the destruction of two human embryos.
Dr Helen Watt of the Anscombe Catholic Bioethics Centre in Britain spoke to Vatican Radio’s Susy Hodges about the ethical implications arising from these two proposed techniques.

Listen to the extended interview with Helen Watt: RealAudioMP3

Dr Watt says the two proposed techniques are essentially all about "genetically modified babies." In the case of the second proposed technique, known as PNT, Watt describes this as the most alarming in terms of the ethical implications involved. The reason for this, she explains, is because the baby who would be born "has no parents ... and is composed of two deliberately destroyed embryos and is a clone of the first embryo."

Watt says in the case of the first proposed technique (known as MST), "we're fragmenting genetic parenthood: "These babies will not even have a full genetic mother", she says and in effect the baby would have three parents, the spindle mother, the egg mother and the father.

According to Dr Watt another alarming implication about both these techniques is that it would mark the first time UK scientists would be permitted deliberately to alter the genes that would be passed on to future generations , something which is known as the "germline."

When asked if she believes the two proposed techniques will eventually be approved, Watt replies: "I fear it may well go through but that may depend on the number of people who write to state their objections" ... to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. Britain, she says, "is very permissive when it comes to both embryonic experimentation and fertility treatment."