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posted by Cactus on Friday February 28 2014, @02:00AM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the Kwisatz-Haderach-breeding-program dept.

GungnirSniper writes:

The US Food and Drug Administration is holding hearings to help determine if they should allow oocyte modification of mitochondrial DNA, which could prevent hereditary diseases that cause issues, such as such as seizures and blindness, from being passed on by mothers. In layman's terms, this "three-parent IVF" would allow the mitochondrial DNA of an unaffected woman to replace that of the mother while keeping the main DNA, so the child would still look like the mother and father.

From Scientific American: "Once the mtDNA has been swapped out, the egg could be fertilized in the lab by the father's sperm and the embryo would be implanted back into mom where pregnancy would proceed. The resulting child would be the genetic offspring of the intended mother but would carry healthy mitochondrial genes from the donor."

The New York Times has a shorter version of the story, as well as an opinion column urging ethical and moral consideration of this procedure.

Is this an ethical way to prevent future harm, or the start of a slippery slope to designer babies? Is the creation of designer babies immoral?

Related Stories

UK's Fertility Regulator Approves Creation of First "Three-Parent" Babies 13 comments

Doctors have been given permission to create the UK's first "three-parent" or "three-person" babies to mitigate the risk of inheritable mitochondrial diseases:

Doctors have received permission to create the UK's first "three-person" babies for two women at risk of passing inheritable diseases to their children.

The two cases involve women who have mitochondrial diseases, which are passed down by the mother and can prove fatal.

Three-person babies involve an advanced form of IVF that uses a donor egg, the mother's egg and the father's sperm.

Doctors at the Newcastle Fertility Centre will carry out the procedure.

The decision was approved by the UK Fertility Regulator, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA).

Also at New Scientist.

Previously: Mitochondrial DNA Manipulation and Ethics
Approval for Three-Parent Embryo Trials
Fatal Genetic Conditions Could Return in Some 'Three-Parent' Babies
Baby Girl Born in Ukraine Using Three-Parent Pronuclear Transfer Technique
FDA Warns Doctor Against Marketing Three-Person IVF Technique

Related: First Human Embryo Editing Performed in the UK


Original Submission

Baby Girl Born in Ukraine Using Three-Parent Pronuclear Transfer Technique 5 comments

Ethicists are bothered by the circumstances surrounding the world's first use of pronuclear transfer to create a baby:

It was a first for the entire world: Using a controversial in vitro fertilization technique, doctors in Kiev, Ukraine, helped a previously infertile couple conceive and deliver a baby girl. Some critics say, for genetic reasons, the use of this IVF method should have been restricted to producing a baby boy. The baby was born on January 5, the result of an experimental technique known as "pronuclear transfer" and sometimes referred to as three-parent IVF. The 34-year-old Ukrainian mother suffered from "unexplained infertility," according to Dr. Valery Zukin, director of the Nadiya Clinic for Reproductive Medicine, where the controversial pronuclear transfer technique was performed. She did not have mitochondrial disease.

[...] The reason this experimental method is a cause for concern -- and was vigorously debated in the UK before approval -- is the genetic modifications produced in a girl baby could be passed onto her children, according to Lori P. Knowles, adjunct assistant professor at the University of Alberta School of Public Health.

Boy babies carrying donor mitochondria cannot pass their modified genetics onto any future children they may have because once a sperm fuses with an egg to form an embryo, the masculine mitochondrion withers and dies leaving the resulting embryo with only mitochondrion from the mother's egg. "I do think it's highly significant that this is a girl because we know for sure that she will be passing on her mitochondrial DNA through her maternal line," said Knowles. If in the future this baby girl has genetic children, they will inherit her genetic modifications "and that's always been a really bright line," said Knowles -- a line not to be crossed until rigorous scientific testing proves it is safe.

The previous three-parent baby was conceived using spindle nuclear transfer, and couldn't pass on donor mitochondrial DNA (well, conventionally anyway) as a male. The Ukrainian procedure was used as a workaround for infertility rather than mitochondrial disease. The article also notes that Dr. Valery Zukin, director of the Nadiya Clinic for Reproductive Medicine where the procedure was performed, is also the vice president of the medical review board that approved the procedure.

Also at BBC and Smithsonian Magazine:

The mother in question had been unable to get pregnant for 15 years. Using the procedure as an IVF technique allows doctors to bypass cells or enzymes in the mother's egg that might prevent pregnancy or hinder cell division, explains Andy Coghlan at New Scientist .

Previously: Mitochondrial DNA Manipulation and Ethics
Approval for Three-Parent Embryo Trials
Fatal Genetic Conditions Could Return in Some 'Three-Parent' Babies


Original Submission

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  • (Score: 5, Insightful) by siwelwerd on Friday February 28 2014, @02:07AM

    by siwelwerd (946) on Friday February 28 2014, @02:07AM (#8203)

    I saw a headline elsewhere earlier to the effect of "OMG! Babies with 3 genetic parents!". Glad to see a helpful summary here with a link to an informative article, rather than just the clickbait headline I saw from the MSM.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 28 2014, @02:55AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 28 2014, @02:55AM (#8226)

      My thought exactly. So the "third parent" provides mtDNA. Nice work, submitter and editor.

    • (Score: 5, Interesting) by GungnirSniper on Friday February 28 2014, @03:12AM

      by GungnirSniper (1671) on Friday February 28 2014, @03:12AM (#8236) Journal

      You're welcome. :) It took about a half hour to read through various articles to understand the topic, find SN-worthy links, and then summarize. The site is powered by our submissions, so fire away! [soylentnews.org]

       

      As for a slippery slope to designer babies, I don't see this incredible technology doing that. Existing treatments for mitochondrial diseases are limited to things like vitamins, so mtDNA manipulation may be one of the few effective options.

  • (Score: 2, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 28 2014, @02:08AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 28 2014, @02:08AM (#8204)

    Mitochondria genetic engineering is much easier to perform than of the 23 main chromosomes, so it's going to happen. We just don't know what snazy DNA sequences to use right now.

  • (Score: 4, Insightful) by tftp on Friday February 28 2014, @02:09AM

    by tftp (806) on Friday February 28 2014, @02:09AM (#8205) Homepage

    IMO, if you are trying to make a child, do your best. Why should the child be saddled with an untreatable disease if this can be avoided?

    One may say that richer parents will get better children, and this will destroy the society and cause Eugenics Wars. However it all amounts to dragging the humankind down. Instead of everyone eventually becoming healthier, people want everyone to be sick - "just so you are not better off than I am," for example. The humankind does not benefit from that. How well would the society do if every talented artist gets blinded just because the cobbler next door cannot paint just as well as Raphael?

    • (Score: 4, Insightful) by d on Friday February 28 2014, @02:18AM

      by d (523) on Friday February 28 2014, @02:18AM (#8207)

      On the other hand, what if we get rid of some useful kinds of people whose personality features were in some way related to their sicknesses?

      • (Score: 4, Insightful) by tftp on Friday February 28 2014, @02:33AM

        by tftp (806) on Friday February 28 2014, @02:33AM (#8213) Homepage

        How moral would it be, for example, to breed midgets just because they are fun to watch at a circus?

        • (Score: 1) by maizeman on Friday February 28 2014, @03:00AM

          by maizeman (3468) on Friday February 28 2014, @03:00AM (#8228)

          You know, that's the most concise and convincing answer I've ever heard for the "What if it turns out genetic disease X is linked to something good" argument. If it is okay with you I may borrow it for use.

          • (Score: 3, Insightful) by similar_name on Friday February 28 2014, @04:13AM

            by similar_name (71) on Friday February 28 2014, @04:13AM (#8259)
            There are some little people that are perfectly happy the way they are and would be offended that you call it a disease. And that is what really gets to the heart of the matter.
            • (Score: 2) by mojo chan on Friday February 28 2014, @01:51PM

              by mojo chan (266) on Friday February 28 2014, @01:51PM (#8483)

              It's not without health implications though, and the question remains as to where you draw the line. In the UK pregnancies have been terminated because the child had a hair lip, a purely cosmetic issue. How about colour blindness? Dyslexia?

              What will happen is that the state will offer screening for serious conditions, but anything else more debatable will require private tests and treatment to correct.

              --
              const int one = 65536; (Silvermoon, Texture.cs)
              • (Score: 1) by sbgen on Friday February 28 2014, @08:17PM

                by sbgen (1302) on Friday February 28 2014, @08:17PM (#8739)

                May be you would like to know that right now screening offered by the government is limited to just a few serious conditions AND it excludes many more serious ones. So there is no danger of screening for cosmetic aspects being offered.

                --
                Warning: Not a computer expert, but got to use it. Yes, my kind does exist.
            • (Score: 2) by Open4D on Friday February 28 2014, @01:55PM

              by Open4D (371) Subscriber Badge on Friday February 28 2014, @01:55PM (#8487) Journal

              There are some little people that are perfectly happy the way they are and would be offended that you call it a disease. And that is what really gets to the heart of the matter.

              Agreed. There must be safeguards. I would suggest that in the early stages of these kinds of technology (e.g. the next 1000 years) at least, and quite possibly forever, we should only make available treatments for things that the scientific consensus and the vast majority of the population agrees are defects. So even if a short person wanted to engineer an average height child, they wouldn't be allowed to.

              (I'm referring to laboratory engineering of course. Humans have been practicing genetic engineering through selective breeding, mainly of other species, for millennia. If a short woman found a very tall man willing to be a sperm donor, and got inseminated (perhaps using a kit [prideangel.com]), that's a whole different matter.)

              Just like in all areas of ethics, constructing these safeguards would be difficult - but definitely not impossible.

              • (Score: 2) by edIII on Friday February 28 2014, @09:02PM

                by edIII (791) on Friday February 28 2014, @09:02PM (#8771)

                If a short woman found a very tall man willing to be a sperm donor, and got inseminated (perhaps using a kit [prideangel.com]), that's a whole different matter.)

                How is this different than genetic engineering again?

                She used technology. If you really wanted it to be fair, and only to be what everyone has access to, she should have to screw him the old fashioned way and get the sperm that way.

                I don't see the difference between in-vitro and genetic engineering at all. The woman has absolute inviolable rights to her body, even during pregnancy. If technology comes along and women start lining up to design their babies I'm afraid I just have nothing to say about it.

                The same logical foundations that allow me to be pro-choice, also strongly indicate that I can't say anything to her about genetic engineering either.

                I understand why it would make people upset. Who wouldn't be upset when you are forced to compare yourself to a genetically engineered child that will be taller, smarter, healthier, have those Olympian athlete genes?

                It makes us feel worse about ourselves, but in a spectacularly selfish and close minded fashion. Those children will be equal in worth just as everybody else is right? right?

                Genetic engineering is viewed as a form of gentrification, which is no wonder why it's such an emotional issue fraught with "ethics" and "scientific concerns".

                Let's just be honest. We will be intensely jealous of those little shits with their perfect smiles and perfect bodies.

                --
                Technically, lunchtime is at any moment. It's just a wave function.
                • (Score: 2) by Open4D on Saturday March 01 2014, @06:19PM

                  by Open4D (371) Subscriber Badge on Saturday March 01 2014, @06:19PM (#9185) Journal

                  If a short woman found a very tall man willing to be a sperm donor, and got inseminated (perhaps using a kit [prideangel.com]), that's a whole different matter.)

                  How is this different than genetic engineering again?

                  It's not. I said that it is a form of genetic engineering. The difference between selective breeding and lab engineering is that the latter could be used to make changes far more quickly and dramatically than the former, which is a higher risk to our species. As luck would have it, the latter is also more amenable to being legislated for.

                  One good reason to have strong safeguards, especially at the start, is that without them we might not get any lab engineering at all. Or we might get a lot of lab engineering at the start, go a bit too far, and get it banned altogether for generations. We have to remember how much of a hold religion has over all our lives, and take that into account when we try to steer an optimal route to human progress.

                  • (Score: 2) by edIII on Saturday March 01 2014, @07:07PM

                    by edIII (791) on Saturday March 01 2014, @07:07PM (#9192)

                    I disagree to the steering of an optimal route. Religion will end up creating the abortion situation again where, once the cat is out of the bag, women would go down dark alleyways to find a not so reputable doctor to perform the operation. There is no optimal route when you put money together with technology with supply/demand.

                    If religion goes to far you will have dark clinics, that hopefully, will have much lower mortality rates and cleaner environments. That's not a given.

                    A fair number of people die each year in elective procedures that are performed by people with questionable training and skills. It's not nice to go under and die from lipo surgery. At the same time, it's pretty stupid to ignore the huge incentive of losing weight in an obese country that markets the most skinny and unattainable bodies, both genders included.

                    That's weight loss, and that's just one person.

                    You take two people together that have actively decided to have a child. What limits do you really think they have, when for them, it will be all of their love, fears for their child, and a lifetime of their own pain driving their decision making processes? A child's welfare is an intensely frightening thing to parents, and they have to deal with that.

                    Religion does not, and never has, equaled ethics. Ethics are not produced from religion. How can they? They produce no universal truths that can be applied in the absence of religion. Just because some bearded man in a book, from thousands of years ago, reaches across time and tells me that he hates the buttsex doesn't make the buttsex inherently wrong; Just vehemently disagreed with apparently.

                    Religious people are insane when they talk about the application of ethics to science. Religion is so insane with ethics, that even the very definition seems to include them, but shouldn't. An ethic is a code of conduct, but it's a well thought out application of common sense. Ethic 1: Don't kill people. Ethic 2: Don't steal people's shit. Ethic 3: Treat others as you would wish to be treated. The first two are fairly common sense and difficult to disagree with as they logically create the foundation for a society. The last one is so brilliant in it's own right, that you don't need any religion of any kind to understand it; It exists beyond religion.

                    So what ethics are really at work, completely disregarding all "ethics" and morals derived from religion? That's just it. I don't see any in this specific case, and I'm waiting for a more logical and cogent explanation of how genetic engineering could adversely affect us. I know they exist at a higher level with specific kinds of actions, but not at the level of, "Hey... let's get rid of that pesky cancer risk. What do you say?".

                    The current occupants of the planet (me) are concerned about the bright new beautiful people that won't have to suffer any of my particular failings. Possibly, like my reaction to wheat, or eating 6000 calories a day (which is surprisingly easy to do). Hopefully, my inherent weakness towards cancers and other diseases that ultimately contribute towards my inevitable demise.

                    When you finally get down to it, everybody is a hypocrite. The parents won't care though, as they are not hypocrites at that moment. In that moment, they become converts. Only the ultra-religious seem to hold out and risk death or disease to "enjoy the divine plan of god". What troopers. They are wishing to suffer pain, and for their loved ones to suffer pain, and for others to suffer pain, just to please their god. Such nice and dedicated people. Glad to have them on the planet with me.

                    Genetic engineering of children is just way too enticing to parents for so many reasons.

                    Religion has no way of stopping technology. It can only delay it for awhile till enough people get pissed off by the illogical hampering of science putting highly desirable products and services out of their reach.

                    Religion is just so kooky. A cookie can be the devil, and all together they will loudly speak of the evils of the devil. Back in their own homes however.... out comes the cookies. That won't change till you have a really good non-religious reason to not eat the cookie. Like it makes your penis limp, or your vagina stink, or spoils beer for 2 square miles.

                    • (Score: 2) by Open4D on Saturday March 01 2014, @08:41PM

                      by Open4D (371) Subscriber Badge on Saturday March 01 2014, @08:41PM (#9221) Journal

                      Random statistic: in the USA, only 54% of people would ever vote for an atheist for president: http://www.gallup.com/poll/155285/atheists-muslims -bias-presidential-candidates.aspx [gallup.com]

                      Religious people obviously prefer to vote for someone who shares their superstitions, but they are also content to vote for someone whose superstitions contradict theirs! The thing that many of them can't abide is someone without those kinds of superstitions.

                      Anyone who is working towards a positive future for humanity has to take into account all the facts, and the fact that most people associate themselves with a religion is very significant indeed.

                                                                                                `
                      Having said all that, I should point out that when I said "one good reason to have strong safeguards ... [is that it's the best chance we've got]", I had been intending to add "but there are other, more important reasons too". Most of these other reasons have been touched on in other comments.

            • (Score: 1) by etherscythe on Friday February 28 2014, @06:20PM

              by etherscythe (937) on Friday February 28 2014, @06:20PM (#8658) Journal

              It's admirable that they have come to terms with their circumstances. However, I'd think it's still immoral not to give as much advantage as possible to members of the next generation for their expected environment.

              On the flipside, these traits may be desirable in other circumstances - for example, if humanity starts actively living in space where room is at a premium, shorter frames with lowered calorie requirements and no need to worry about reaching tall shelves could actually be superior.

              --
              "Fake News: anything reported outside of my own personally chosen echo chamber"
              • (Score: 3, Interesting) by similar_name on Friday February 28 2014, @06:39PM

                by similar_name (71) on Friday February 28 2014, @06:39PM (#8672)
                >I'd think it's still immoral not to give as much advantage as possible to members of the next generation for their expected environment.

                That is well put and I agree with the sentiment. I just think it will become tricky to define what is advantageous and what the expected environment will be.

                Personally, I think we'll do designer genes eventually. That makes me wonder. At one point, geographical barriers separated humans and created some differences. Today, those barriers are easily overcome and it is likely our genome is not diverging as much as it used to. As we begin to tinker with our genetics, not only will different countries adopt this technology at different rates but they will use it in different ways.

                An entire generation could introduce a new eye color to the genome in one fail swoop. An eye color here, hair there. A little height here, torso there. Oh, they have purple eyes, they must be American. I wonder if we'll see our genome diverge a little. It's always good to have variety and our species may take evolution up a notch.
      • (Score: 2, Insightful) by amblivious on Friday February 28 2014, @07:38AM

        by amblivious (26) on Friday February 28 2014, @07:38AM (#8357)

        Yes, like how sickle hemoglobin protects against malaria [sciencedaily.com].

        • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Open4D on Friday February 28 2014, @02:09PM

          by Open4D (371) Subscriber Badge on Friday February 28 2014, @02:09PM (#8498) Journal

          Yes, good example. That's why we should go slowly, and start with the 'low-hanging fruit' - i.e. situations where we are sufficiently confident of no unintended consequences. (Such as the disease [wikipedia.org] being discussed here.) We should only move onto the more difficult issues that we are currently less sure about (such as trying to prevent sickle hemoglobin without increasing malaria risk) at a later stage - e.g. a few centuries from now.

          This slow pace is why we should get started sooner rather than later.

                                            `
          All that said, ultimately, if we genuinely believe an intervention has a 51% chance of doing good and a 49% chance of doing harm, how can it be ethical not to do the intervention? (Obviously this is a highly simplified way of putting it, but I hope people get the fundamental point I'm trying to make.)

    • (Score: 4, Insightful) by melikamp on Friday February 28 2014, @03:08AM

      by melikamp (1886) on Friday February 28 2014, @03:08AM (#8235) Journal

      I feel like you are mounting a straw-man, although a well-intentioned one. No one wants "everyone to be sick". But a lot of people want to have a safety net, which is an entirely different thing. If testing for genetic abnormalities becomes reasonably cheap, then we should all have it, damn it, in the interest of public health. So it's not OK if only the rich can afford it, but not for the reason you seem to be opposed to.

      Besides the tiny group of (rich and powerful) psychopaths who genuinely want the rest of the world to suffer at their expense, there are two forces which oppose a revolutionary medicine like this one being available to the public. One is legitimate: hey, may be it will do more harm than good, so how about testing it first? The other one is: hey, I am a bigot, and you just can't play God, etc. There is nothing wrong with FDA looking closer at the issue, because the danger of screwing up our genetic code is quite real. There is, however, a huge problem when decisions are made based on superstitions, which disguise themselves as "ethics" but are really arbitrary value judgements read INTO 600+ year old texts written by people who knew next to NOTHING about the way human body actually works.

      I guess what I am saying is, as long as FDA sticks to science, we should be OK. But if their conclusions are tainted by "ethical" considerations, then to hell with them: they probably ARE making us sicker.

      P.S.: Sorry for yelling; Anjou is talking.

      • (Score: 4, Insightful) by morgauxo on Friday February 28 2014, @05:06AM

        by morgauxo (2082) on Friday February 28 2014, @05:06AM (#8284)

        "So it's not OK if only the rich can afford it"

        Why? If the reason that only the rich can afford it is that providers have a patent and they have chosen to price it that way then I agree with you. You didn't say that though. What if a procedure is just too difficult or requires too rare of supplies to be practical at a price that most people can afford? Is it moral to make those babies whose parents could have afforded it suffer just because everyone else can't be helped?

        "hey, may be it will do more harm than good, so how about testing it first"

        I don't think anyone is suggesting offering this or anything else to the public without testing first. Then again, there is the history of artificial sweeteners, trans fat, etc... I could be wrong!

        "hey, I am a bigot, and you just can't play God"

        I think the religious opposition to this would be mostly be due to the fact that artificial insemination usually involves creating a lot of embryos, using one (maybe a few if the first don't take) and throwing the rest away. People who believe that God said that people become people at conception would have to believe that is murder.

        Personally I am divided on this. I want to see the human genome improved. Given our very unnatural existence full of safety laws, modern medicine, etc... we may very well NEED to artificially manipulate our genes to avoid serious problems with future generations where everyone is loaded with genetic diseases or maybe just an Idiocracy type senario. Survival of the fittest just doesn't mean for us what it once did.

        The question is are embryos people. I'm not religious but I don't need some "600+ year old texts" to make me concerned about the way our society defines the beggining of life. I certainly don't think an embryo has a conscious awareness of it's own existence. Many babies who are aborted however are that far along. I think consciousness is the usual pro-choice test for personhood right? (while denying that last part about many babies that are aborted) That should make throw-away embryos ok (it's just a cluster of cells). But is consciousness even the right question? Science can tell us a lot about when a brain is and isn't conscious (and an embryo doesn't have one) but what does that mean? What really makes me me and not a big bag of chemicals configured in such a way that if you vibrate my ear drums the right way (ask me if I am me) I will say yes, I am me? An MRI can show that a certain part of my brain is active therefore I am conscious but that is just neurons passing sodium ions around. What makes a person?

        I am a human being, a person. I think the other humans I see are people too (can't really prove it). I don't know why we are people, not just complicated chemical machines that act as people. I don't think any other human being knows either. That makes me disturbed by the idea that anyone thinks they know enough to define something/one as non-person thus ok to destroy. Even if it is just a cluster of cells.

        But.. like I said, I think we need to manipulate our genes eventually. No easy answer here.

        • (Score: 3, Insightful) by melikamp on Friday February 28 2014, @11:50AM

          by melikamp (1886) on Friday February 28 2014, @11:50AM (#8429) Journal

          What if a procedure is just too difficult or requires too rare of supplies to be practical at a price that most people can afford?

          Yea, that's fine, I mentioned reasonable price before as a condition.

          The question is are embryos people. I'm not religious but I don't need some "600+ year old texts" to make me concerned about the way our society defines the beggining of life.

          Where exactly to draw the line is indeed a hard question in the realm of ethics. But embryos are nowhere close to where the line would be. Whether embryos are people can only pose a serious problem for someone motivated by superstition. Cockroaches are more people than embryos: they crawl around with a total sense of purpose, are self-aware to a degree, and we share a common ancestor. If it's OK to thoughtlessly to squash a roach, it should be OK to treat embryos as pieces of inanimate matter. The only argument against that would come from someone who believes that humans are inherently better than other species, and Abrahamic religions cultivate this sentiment very strongly. If embryos are somehow more people than adult insects, then I am afraid a super-intelligent, but unrelated species would not be considered "people" either, and we should be able to kill the aliens at will. This is simply speciesism.

          I think the other humans I see are people too (can't really prove it).

          Emphasis is mine. I wish Ludwig Wittgenstein was alive, so that he could slap you around until you start screaming "uncle" and "I won't try to prove a proposition, denial of which makes people wonder, whether or not I even understand the meaning of the word 'humans'". :P

          • (Score: 1) by morgauxo on Friday February 28 2014, @10:00PM

            by morgauxo (2082) on Friday February 28 2014, @10:00PM (#8826)

            You seem to be just stating the idea that consciousness makes personhood and adding inteligence to the equation. A computer can have an internal representation of it's state as being on/off. It can also have a form of inteligence. Why is it not a person? I think there has to be more to it.

            I don't know what exactly personhood really is
            I believe I am a person (thus invested in the question)
            I don't believe anyone else knows
            Therefore I gravitate towards a very conservative answer (if it can become a person it is a person)

            Unfortunately that conservative answer conflicts with a desire to see disease eliminated (includeing genetic). Beyond that.. I hope that one day we have genetic advancement making our descendants smarter, stronger, healthier... I want them to live better lives than we do. (Honestly I want that life but I can't have it)

            • (Score: 2) by melikamp on Friday February 28 2014, @10:45PM

              by melikamp (1886) on Friday February 28 2014, @10:45PM (#8857) Journal

              if it can become a person it is a person

              This does not make a lick of sense. Our common ancestor with roaches could become a person, and in fact it did, so was it a person? You are seriously over-thinking the matter. An embryo is a microbe at best. It's not a person. Being able to transform into a person, given the right circumstances, is irrelevant. If it was relevant, then stardust, which transforms into a person after a long period of chemical and then biological evolution, is a person.

              If we keep following your reasoning, then being able to transform into a non-person would make you a non-person. Anyone is capable of jumping from a tall building and becoming a non-person, so are we all non-persons? No. You are a person while you are alive, and you are very much not when your brain blanks, even if the tubes keep you breathing and your blood running. What you may be in the future is irrelevant for your current personhood status.

              While personhood is indeed mysterious, the non-personhood of things like rocks, roaches, and embryos is not. An intelligent humanoid robot poses a challenge. An organism consisting of a handful of cells does not, especially if it absolutely cannot sirvive outside of a womb-like environment. An implanted embryo is simply a part of the mother. A removed embryo is as much of a person as a hair from her head. You can take the DNA from the detached hair and clone a brand-new person. Does this make hair a person?

              • (Score: 1) by morgauxo on Tuesday March 11 2014, @10:09PM

                by morgauxo (2082) on Tuesday March 11 2014, @10:09PM (#14905)

                "If we keep following your reasoning, then being able to transform into a non-person would make you a non-person."

                Nope! My reasoning is that personhood is something none of us are even in a position to fully comprehend. But, as we "I assume" are all people ourselves it is a very important question. Thus, we should err on the side of caution. Your suggested conclusion to my reasoning is the exact opposite of caution.

                "You are a person while you are alive, and you are very much not when your brain blanks"

                So I can infer from this it is all about brain activity for you? The brain is just a bunch of neurons. Is one live neuron a person? If not then how many does it take? Is it the unique pattern that the neurons make that makes it a person? What if this pattern is simulated on a really powerful computer? Is that a peson? If so is it the same person? Or a new one? What if the simulation were started right at the death of the original? Is that the same person now immortalized? What if the copy is made before the original dies? What if there are many copies?

                "An intelligent humanoid robot poses a challenge."

                Yes 'it' does. And that line of thinking is exactly why I don't like the idea of defining personhood as involving brain function. Would an intelligent humanoid robot be a person? I don't know. I hope so.

                If such a robot were built I don't think anyone could truly 100% understand all of it's programming. Different pieces would be written by different people. Much of it would probably be made through some sort of learning algorithms. But... all of the individual pieces would be easily understandable by anyone with a basic understanding of electronics. It would just be a huge mass of digital switches. Everything could be deconstructed down to logic gates. And yet... the sum of it all is a person?

                Our own neurons are more complicated than boolean logic gates. But.. they are still far too simple to grant "personhood" to a single neuron any more than a logic gate is a person (whatever person is). So.. that is why I think there is something more to personhood. Personhood must be more than just the sum of it's parts. Reducing it to brain function just brings it back down to the level of it's parts.

                "especially if it absolutely cannot sirvive outside of a womb-like environment"

                Ok, here is another definition candidate for personhood... "independance". That one is even worse than brain function! First, there is no clear cut line when a fetus/baby is capable of surviving a premature birth. Just look at the babies who were born as part of a failed abortion. One side of the opening and they are discardable fetuses. On the other side they are people? I guess the magic soul fairy shows up right at birth then?

                Babies are still very much dependant on adult care after birth. As are many injured, diseased and old people. I hope we agree that they are people. What's so special about being dependant on a womb?

                "An implanted embryo is simply a part of the mother."

                Umm... because you say so? You just made a convenient definition of embryo and then used your definition as part of your argument. Just because it is inside her doesn't make it a part of her. She isn't born with it. Nor will it remain in her permanently. It doesn't serve any purpose for her body. It doesn't match her DNA. An embryo is no more a part of the mother than is any other parasite living within her body.

                "You can take the DNA from the detached hair and clone a brand-new person"

                Nope. Hair only has mitochrondial DNA. You at least need the follicle to get the rest. Not that this matters to the argument but I thought I would point it out.

        • (Score: 2) by Open4D on Friday February 28 2014, @02:59PM

          by Open4D (371) Subscriber Badge on Friday February 28 2014, @02:59PM (#8523) Journal

          Good, thoughtful post, thanks

           

          Personally I am divided on this. I want to see the human genome improved. Given our very unnatural existence full of safety laws, modern medicine, etc... we may very well NEED to artificially manipulate our genes to avoid serious problems with future generations where everyone is loaded with genetic diseases or maybe just an Idiocracy type senario. Survival of the fittest just doesn't mean for us what it once did.

          The example I normally give for this is: ... myself. I have fairly severe hyperopia [wikipedia.org], so I need to wear spectacles all the time. If I'd been born before spectacles were invented (or were available to the masses), I may not have survived childhood. I would certainly have had a lower chance of reproducing. If this condition is even slightly influenced by genes, the invention of spectacles has worsened the human gene pool, and will continue to do so. It is currently a small price to pay, but the price will keep getting bigger from one generation to the next, accelerating as medical science creates more and more workarounds for problems that would previously have been subject to selection pressures. We are lucky that we have genetic engineering available to us to counteract this effect.

           

          I am a human being, a person. I think the other humans I see are people too (can't really prove it). I don't know why we are people, not just complicated chemical machines that act as people. I don't think any other human being knows either. That makes me disturbed by the idea that anyone thinks they know enough to define something/one as non-person thus ok to destroy. Even if it is just a cluster of cells.

          This is a good point, and it's why I don't condemn people who wish to criminallize abortion, yet I do condemn those who try to diminish access to contraception.

          Maybe if the mind-body problem [wikipedia.org], for one thing, were ever to be solved, then I'd be willing to promise a religious person that their objections to abortion and/or embryo use were wrong.

          As it is at the moment, I'm confident their objections are wrong, far beyond any level of doubt that should prevent society acting as such. (Just as I am confident that the cremation of dead bodies is not unethical.) But I still have to respect these people's views. I'm just glad they are not in the democratic majority in my country (for now).

      • (Score: 2) by mmcmonster on Friday February 28 2014, @11:07AM

        by mmcmonster (401) on Friday February 28 2014, @11:07AM (#8414)

        Why do you assume this is only for the rich?

        That's like saying in the early 1980s that computers were (or in-vitro fertilization was) only for the well off.

        The rich pay for being on the forefront. Later on you get inexpensive mass-market options.

    • (Score: 2) by GungnirSniper on Friday February 28 2014, @03:18AM

      by GungnirSniper (1671) on Friday February 28 2014, @03:18AM (#8239) Journal

      Perhaps part of the concern is the Western philosophical ideal that 'all men are created equal' would be challenged by aesthetically perfect people with photographic memory and high IQs?

      • (Score: 1) by tftp on Friday February 28 2014, @03:35AM

        by tftp (806) on Friday February 28 2014, @03:35AM (#8246) Homepage

        Perhaps part of the concern is the Western philosophical ideal that 'all men are created equal' would be challenged [...]

        This principle is better known as Procrustean bed. If you don't conform, someone will eagerly chop your feet off to keep you in line.

  • (Score: 1) by JimmyCrackCorn on Friday February 28 2014, @02:41AM

    by JimmyCrackCorn (1495) on Friday February 28 2014, @02:41AM (#8215)

    Tweak any system and other things may change from the tweak.

    I think the mitochondria are even more alien like now that they can get us to select the more likely to reproduce mitochondria for our offspring.

    The more intriguing question may be: Is there a negative impact on human reproduction fitness six generations from mitochondria exchange?

    • (Score: 1, Redundant) by Barrabas on Friday February 28 2014, @03:23AM

      by Barrabas (22) on Friday February 28 2014, @03:23AM (#8243) Journal

      "Tweak any system and other things may change from the tweak."

      That can be said of any proposal for progress. In truth, there *may* indeed be unintended consequences for these changes - just as with any proposed change.

      You're highlighting the probabilities without taking into consideration the risk/reward.

      On the one hand, we have a damaged child in need of lifetime care and little chance for a happy existence. On the other, a perfectly normal child with a happy outlook.

      Even if the probability of "other things happening" is high, doesn't the risk/reward consideration enter into it at all? Not to mention the logic of the mental "model" behind the proposed change, and the value of potentially eliminating certain diseases from the species.

      Focus on the larger picture. Try to recognize these types of misdirection, it's how powerful entities manipulate public opinion to their own ends.

      • (Score: 4, Insightful) by tftp on Friday February 28 2014, @03:50AM

        by tftp (806) on Friday February 28 2014, @03:50AM (#8250) Homepage

        In truth, there *may* indeed be unintended consequences for these changes - just as with any proposed change.

        And just as with any change that was proposed and REJECTED. Humanity may have been now on the brink of extinction from plague, leprosy, cholera and other preventable diseases if at some point in alternative history the Church declared that all diseases are holy, sent to us by Gods, and medical treatment is verboten, and penicillin is work of Devil himself.

        It's reasonably easy to demonstrate that there is no way to predict that $something_bad does or does not happen if you do or don't do an arbitrary action $A. You only have probabilities. Sure, playing Russian Roulette with a 1911 [wikipedia.org] is probably more risky than eating an apple. That much risk we can and should recognize. On the other end of the range, it may be that Washington Red apples, if eaten for 100 generations, cause infertility and death of civilization. The duty of science is to estimate likely risks for doing $A and for not doing it, as well as the costs (see the AGW theory.)

        • (Score: 2, Interesting) by glyph on Friday February 28 2014, @08:18AM

          by glyph (245) on Friday February 28 2014, @08:18AM (#8369)

          On the flip side to your hypothetical... Imagine if humanity was on the brink of extinction from a plague or what have you, and the only people immune were the ones carrying those "undesirable" hereditary traits that we just finished cleansing from the gene pool. Oops.

          It occurs to me that Darwin already did the risk/reward analysis, in a manner of speaking. More diversity always leads to better chances of survival.

          • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Open4D on Friday February 28 2014, @03:11PM

            by Open4D (371) Subscriber Badge on Friday February 28 2014, @03:11PM (#8530) Journal

            More diversity always leads to better chances of survival.

            I take your point, although I think the story we are discussing proves that it is not an absolute. It's difficult to see how the diversity represented by faulty mitochondrial DNA (and an early death [bbc.com]) could ever realistically be a good thing.

            But yes, any treatments like this should be highly focussed, and only reduce genetic diversity where necessary. Perhaps they should seek approaches that work by engineering increased genetic diversity wherever possible? (Different treatments for the same disease or something?)

      • (Score: 5, Insightful) by c0lo on Friday February 28 2014, @03:57AM

        by c0lo (156) on Friday February 28 2014, @03:57AM (#8253) Journal

        Fortune favors the bold

        Misfortune does the even more the same. For every bold that succeeds there are countless that perish.

        Even if the probability of "other things happening" is high, doesn't the risk/reward consideration enter into it at all?

        Let's bring this closer to personal: assume that an unknown (yet) risk is to have the your baby not only affected by seizures but, due to something about the operation of mitochondrial DNA change, the result in a clinical idiot baby; would you pay the price of taking care of this child for her/his entire life?
        Assume you are the doctor to perform the operation, would you do it if the parents put you upfront the condition of paying for the care of the child in case of failure?

        --
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aoFiw2jMy-0
        • (Score: 1) by tftp on Friday February 28 2014, @04:10AM

          by tftp (806) on Friday February 28 2014, @04:10AM (#8258) Homepage

          Let's bring this closer to personal: assume that an unknown (yet) risk is to have the your baby not only affected by seizures but, due to something about the operation of mitochondrial DNA change, the result in a clinical idiot baby; would you pay the price of taking care of this child for her/his entire life?

          Every parent already signs on that dotted line when s/he elects to have a baby. Babies do not come with warranties; you get what you get, and from now on it's all yours to care for.

          Assume you are the doctor to perform the operation, would you do it if the parents put you upfront the condition of paying for the care of the child in case of failure?

          Doctors never guarantee success; they are not gods and they do not control *everything* that goes into your child. Consequently, no doctor would pay you anything in case the treatment is not entirely successful. They have their hands full with malpractice lawsuits, which have a much higher threshold (something that the doctor did that was done contrary to the prevailing medical practice.)

          • (Score: 3, Insightful) by c0lo on Friday February 28 2014, @04:30AM

            by c0lo (156) on Friday February 28 2014, @04:30AM (#8267) Journal

            (I can't stop myself from noticing your quick "route of escape". I asked if you would be willing to take unknown risks in two different PoV, and you slided into "every parent" and "doctors never".
            No longer personal: I wonder sometimes if boldness correlates with a faltering of the empathy sense?)

            --
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aoFiw2jMy-0
            • (Score: 1) by tftp on Friday February 28 2014, @06:38AM

              by tftp (806) on Friday February 28 2014, @06:38AM (#8327) Homepage

              I can't stop myself from noticing your quick "route of escape". I asked if you would be willing to take unknown risks in two different PoV, and you slided into "every parent" and "doctors never".

              It's just a good generalization that is nearly always true (nearly - in case if you point at some bad parent who kills or gives away their unwanted child, or at a doctor who promises specific results no matter what.) Who cares what I specifically believe in? It's not helping anyone to know; it's not even statistic. A universal formula is far more valuable.

        • (Score: 1) by Barrabas on Friday February 28 2014, @04:22AM

          by Barrabas (22) on Friday February 28 2014, @04:22AM (#8263) Journal

          The answer is simple: Perform the operation on a baby who would *already* be subject to such limitations without the procedure.

          And as has been pointed out, the value of one life is around one to two million dollars. As a civilization, we could pay for several of those against the possibility of eliminating certain diseases from the species.

          Diseases which in themselves burden the civilization with a much higher cost.

          You're story-telling response confuses the possibility of something happening with its likelihood. Even if you correct that flaw, it makes no consideration for the relative costs.

          Consider it a gambling equation: if it works, we've won the (species) lottery. If it fails, we're out $2.

          • (Score: 3, Interesting) by c0lo on Friday February 28 2014, @04:33AM

            by c0lo (156) on Friday February 28 2014, @04:33AM (#8268) Journal

            The answer is simple: Perform the operation on a baby who would *already* be subject to such limitations without the procedure.

            I'm afraid it's not that simple: can't change the DNA (mitochondrial or not) other than in the egg status - once in the embryo status, too many cells to replace that DNA into.

            --
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aoFiw2jMy-0
    • (Score: 2) by mmcmonster on Friday February 28 2014, @11:11AM

      by mmcmonster (401) on Friday February 28 2014, @11:11AM (#8416)

      Or possibly the other way around.

      Perhaps tweaking with the system will create babies who are superior to those who are not tweaked.

      Presumably animal models are limited. But the science suggests that the babies are affected by mitochondrial DNA. Should be interesting at the very least.

  • (Score: 2, Insightful) by hendrikboom on Friday February 28 2014, @04:29PM

    by hendrikboom (1125) Subscriber Badge on Friday February 28 2014, @04:29PM (#8577) Homepage Journal

    The article asks:

    Is this an ethical way to prevent future harm, or the start of a slippery slope to designer babies?

    The ethical way to prevent future harm *is* the slippery slope. Why assume these are exclusive alternatives?

    -- hendrik

  • (Score: 1) by nking on Friday February 28 2014, @08:24PM

    by nking (1921) on Friday February 28 2014, @08:24PM (#8746)

    As is well known, the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) interacts extensively with the nuclear DNA (nDNA). There is obviously considerable variation across species in regards to how these 2 types of DNA interact due to their millenia of differing evolution. I have also read about considerable variation within a given species as well, such that 2 organisms of the same species can have slight differences in the ways their mtDNA and nDNA interact (ie a given mother's 2 DNA's are more like a single unit than simply 2 separate parts working together towards a common goal). Is there any concern about possible incompatibilities between the donors mtDNA and the original mothers nDNA? Would we simply be inviting new disorders to replace the ones being fixed?

  • (Score: 1) by strattitarius on Friday February 28 2014, @09:15PM

    by strattitarius (3191) on Friday February 28 2014, @09:15PM (#8783) Journal

    Don't nerd rage on me about the movie, I was 12 when it came out and it was awesome to me.

    This reminds me of the line "Life will find a way". And remember, your sickness (or death) is another organism's life. We will never cure all diseases. We will never rid our lives of danger. You wouldn't want that life anyways. Oh, crap, now I am thinking of another mainstream sci-fi movie... "We tried to make it perfect, but humans rejected it."

    *All quotes paraphrased.

    --
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