My hope that the benighted term “three parent baby” might disappear from the public discourse was always a forlorn one. Journalistically, of course, it’s enticing. But as a description of what happens when using the mitochondrial transfer technique it’s not only misleading, but also distracting because it focuses attention on the wrong issue. Ethically speaking what’s more significant is not the contribution of the third “parent”, but the passage of the consequent genetic changes to future generations.
When asked to chair the Council’s working party on mitochondrial transfer, I envisaged the subsequent media and public discussion of the technique as possibly constituting a helpful dry run for the much wider debate that will have to precede any proposed changes to inherited nuclear DNA. Whatever we may think of such a development, we can be certain that someone, somewhere will sooner or later request the right to apply the technique to humans. And given recent advances in the field of gene editing, the urge to perform this full blown version of germ line gene therapy is quite likely to manifest itself sooner rather than later.
The debate prompted by our 2012 report did not entirely play out as I had hoped. The dominance of the three parent obsession all but choked off discussion of the moral significance of introducing inherited changes. The hope that this might help prepare us for a subsequent and vastly more contentious debate on the ethics of changing nuclear DNA began to fade. But there again I suppose that was partly of our own doing.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.