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Q&A: Is a New in vitro Fertilization Method Ethical?

From Hilmar: After reading an article in a local paper describing the British government’s present deliberations over introducing a new type of in vitro fertilization, I wondered what RTB’s position would be in terms of ethical considerations. This new IVF procedure would take the nucleus of a fertilized egg and introduce it into a donor’s egg that had its own nucleus previously removed—thus the new fertilized egg would contain a small amount of DNA from the egg donor (mitochondrial DNA?) as well as half the nuclear DNA from the mother and half the nuclear DNA from the father. The question is this: even assuming the nuclear DNA is removed from a single fertilized egg (i.e., no mitosis has occurred), wouldn’t this destroy an embryonic human? Even if the nuclear DNA is successfully injected into a donor egg, would not the new embryo generated produce a distinct human being (somewhat like an identical twin to the one previously destroyed)? From what I can tell this makes an already ethically questionable procedure even more dubious, but I’m very curious to know what you think.

Hilmar, I understand your concerns. We live in a “brave new world,” where advances in biotechnology take place at a breakneck pace, often with little opportunity for any kind of ethical deliberation before researchers attempt to matriculate the emerging technology to clinical settings. The new in vitro fertilization (IVF) method you reference is just one example. (The following article discusses this method and its potential promise: “Dad May Join Two Moms for Disease-Free Designer Babies.”)

As tempting as it might be to condemn summarily emerging biotechnologies—particularly ones that seem ethically questionable upon first glance—it is important to take the time to understand the science behind the technology. Often times this understanding alleviates some concerns and helps provide a realistic assessment in terms of the technology’s true impact on the dignity and sanctity of human life.

After working through the science that underpins this new IVF methodology, I’ve concluded that it is ethically acceptable from a Christian vantage point—with a few caveats. I’m excited because judicious application of this technology can go a long way toward reducing—maybe even eliminating—genetic disorders resulting from mutations to mitochondrial DNA.

For a detailed discussion of the science behind this IVF method and the reasons why I find it ethically permissible, listen to the February 26, 2014 episode of Science News Flash.