May 12, 2010
A letter recently published in the prestigious journal Nature told readers about a technique that could potentially "prevent a number of incurable genetic diseases." But, as is often the case, exploiting the potential comes at a cost—like redefining what it means to be human.
The letter bore the innocuous sounding title "Pronuclear Transfer in Human Embryos to Prevent Transmission of Mitochondrial DNA Disease."
Mitochondria are important parts of the cell because, among other things, they produce a chemical called ATP. And ATP provides usable energy for the cell. Mitochondria have their own DNA, which is passed from mother to child.
Illnesses associated with mitochondrial defects are serious and incurable. They include, to name but a few, heart, kidney and liver disease, diabetes, and dementia.
The researchers' method of preventing these diseases was to first use in vitro fertilization to produce human zygotes. A zygote is a single cell that forms when a sperm cell and an egg fuse. These zygotes had defective mitochondrial DNA, which they inherited from the mother.
They then repeated the process, only this time using a female donor without the defect. This left them with two sets of zygotes—one healthy, one not.
What the researchers basically did was replace the defective mitochondria in one zygote with the healthy mitochondria of the other. The result, the letter declares, was "a seemingly healthy cell with the genetic identity" of the first couple, "and the mitochondria of the second woman."
In other words, it produced a child who, genetically speaking, really does have two mommies.
Gerald Nadal, a molecular biologist, asked the question we should all be asking: "What have we done to ourselves?" Instead of being begotten, "children are manufactured in In Vitro Fertilization clinics...the composite of two mothers and one father."
This "Frankenstein's baby" came about, Nadal says, "through the destruction of two humans...[and] is a composite of its two destroyed progenitors."
Our laudable desire to reduce suffering has led us to sacrifice our human dignity and identity.
C.S. Lewis wouldn't be surprised. In The Abolition of Man, he warned that "the conquest of Nature, if the dreams of some scientific planners are realized, means the rule of a few hundreds of men over billions upon billions of men....The power of Man to make himself what he pleases means...the power of some men to make other men what they please."
In the name of reducing suffering we have indeed opened a door to "the abolition of Man." We are on our way to making human life customizable like a new sofa.
And instead of having intrinsic value as men and women made in the image of God, our worth will be a function of how we conform to someone else's expectations.
And that will be a condition no researcher can prevent.
Chuck Colson's daily BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.