Christian Biochemist: Not Pursuing Advances Like 'Three-Parent Baby' is 'Inherently Sinful'
On Tuesday, The New Scientist magazine reported the fascinating story of a boy who has three "parents": two "moms" and a dad. But the new method used to conceive this child is actually defensible in a Christian worldview, and has nothing to do with the LGBT movement. Furthermore, it does not involve the creation of a "snowflake child," but rather uses a method to prevent a disease which kills young children. One Christian biochemist argued that choosing not to pursue such scientific advances is actually "inherently sinful."
"Our mandate as Christians is not only to preserve the dignity and sanctity of human life, to make sure that we're not producing human life and discarding it," Dr. Fazale Rana, who holds a PhD in chemistry with an emphasis in biochemistry and serves as vice president of research and apologetics at Reasons to Believe, told PJ Media in an interview on Thursday. "To not do things to alleviate human suffering is just as bad in my mind," he added.
Indeed, if there is a new medical development "that doesn't compromise human dignity and does alleviate suffering, not to pursue that is inherently sinful."
So what is the "three-parent baby" method and how does it alleviate suffering?
A Jordanian couple had been trying to start a family for almost 20 years, the New Scientist reported. Ten years after their marriage, the wife became pregnant, but it ended in the first of four miscarriages. In 2005, she gave birth to a baby girl, who was born with Leigh syndrome, a developmental disease which affects the brain, muscles, and nerves of infants. The child died at age six, and the couple's second child had the same disorder, perishing at 8 months.
After these painful losses, the family sought help from American researchers. John Zhang and his team at the New Hope Fertility Center in New York City agreed to help, and went to Mexico in order to perform operations which have not been legalized in the United States.
While the mother is healthy, her cells carry the disease behind Leigh syndrome in her mitochondria, tiny organelles which provide energy for human cells and carry only 37 percent of the genes passed down from mothers. This mitochondrial DNA, or mDNA, is completely separate from the majority of human DNA, which is housed in each cell's nucleus.
Zhang and his team used the "three-parent" technique in order to prevent the mother from passing on this mDNA to her child. In the process of fertilization, a mother's egg cell fuses with a father's sperm cell. The egg cell is much larger than the sperm cell, and carries the mDNA the child will use to develop. The "three parent" method takes an egg cell from a donor besides the mother, removes the nucleus and replaces it with the nucleus from one of the mother's egg cells.
Because the family is Muslim, they objected to the method which was legalized in Britain. That method would remove the nucleus from a fertilized egg (or zygote, which is genetically a human being), and replace it with the nucleus from another fertilized egg. This method entails the death of one zygote, who had a unique DNA pattern and had the potential to become a full human being. The family rejected this method, insisting on the egg method instead, which does not result in the death of a human zygote.
Since the mDNA (which carries the disease) does not reside in the nucleus of the cell, which houses the DNA responsible for nearly all key individual characteristics (such as sex, height, eye color, et cetera), the mother could provide the nuclear DNA and so remain for all intents and purposes the child's biological mother. In this sense, the "three-parent" term is a misnomer — as all the DNA which makes each individual unique comes only from the mother who provided the nucleus.
So Zhang's team took a donor egg, removed the nucleus, and replaced it with the nucleus from one of the mother's eggs. They then used the father's sperm to fertilize the egg. The team made five embryos, only one of which developed normally and was viable enough to survive in the mother's womb. This embryo was implanted in the mother's womb and the child was born on April 6, 2016.
Zhang admitted that his team had to go to Mexico, where "there are no rules," but he argued that he made the right choice in doing so. "To save lives is the ethical thing to do," he told the New Scientist. The baby boy has shown no signs of Leigh syndrome and is developing normally. This procedure has been hailed as historic by the scientific community.
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