Sense and Sensitivity: “Three-Parent Babies”, Innovation or Invasion?

Considering the recent approval of three-person in-vitro fertilisation in the House of Commons, Sarah Wood battles with an ethical conundrum to ask whether this is positive medical advancement or a step towards ‘designer babies.’

The United Kingdom has become the first country to legalise three-person in-vitro fertilisation. On February 3rd the House of Commons voted 382-128 to approve a bill allowing embryo-modification techniques. Whilst this may be seen to some as a positive medical advancement with the main benefit being that it will supposedly prevent mothers from transferring incurable genetic diseases to their unborn child. I cannot help but question how dangerous this form of conception may be in terms of the ethical attitudes it may encourage, or discourage.

For example, will three-parent babies make the concept of designer babies less radical? Although the law isn’t fully set in stone yet and it will need to be approved by the UK House of Lords before eligible families can be considered, it is a scary prospect that a large amount of eggs will have to be donated and gathered by women for research. How many embryos will be destroyed for research? What are the psychological implications for the child with three parents in the future? These are all examples of questions that are being born (excuse the pun) from the anxieties of this scientific innovation, if we can call it that.

Even though decreasing the amount of babies born with severe genetic diseases is obviously a promising prospect. I think the concerns about the consequences are legitimate, and deserve more debate before the law is changed. I have concerns for the welfare of the children born from this procedure who will possibly feel as though they need to justify the morality of their birth story. With controversial issues such as this, there will always be divisions and conflicts which they will be subjected to throughout their lives as though they were a living trial. I fear that the possible anguish the term ‘three-person baby” will cause for the child is ethically wrong. In all honesty I am not yet for or against the procedure, but that is only because I feel I haven’t heard enough debate. Which is alarming. Are we living in a society that prefers using medical advancement to the preservation the moral health of society? Whilst the triple DNA technique may be remarkable for science, it may also be detrimental for the people, the human beings involved. for some couples the unnatural connotations of IVF and the scientific conception they are forced to undergo is upsetting enough.

Those that have opposed third party mitochondrial donation have been subjected to accusations that they do not want to alleviate human suffering. I think this is very unfair, opposition isn’t arising from a devious place, it has risen out of fear. The procedure is still in its experimental stages, and although incurable mitochondrial diseases could be prevented, there is still the uncertainty of other ailments this procedure could cause. Like any medical experiment, there are benefits and there are risks. The risks here are unknown, allowing those with fears and anxieties about tampering with DNA perfectly appropriate reasons to oppose or question. I am one of those people. My anxiety is for the child in question, if there have been no clinical trials of this massive procedure surely the child will have to be monitored by scientists throughout their life? They didn’t volunteer to be a human guinea pig. The procedure seems to me to be characterised by invasion.

I want to consider the ‘other side’ to this debate. Yes, there is uncertainty about the consequence and success of the procedure, and yes, perhaps the first candidates will be guinea pigs. However I ask, considering the potential benefits, should we trust science? Do we need to take a brave leap of faith and accept the risks? Whilst I do not deny that anything that could stop or prevent suffering is worth trying, I still cannot get past the ethical problems with the prospect of three-parent children. We may be able to trial an experiment that could prevent mitochondrial diseases but it doesn’t mean that we should. Call me old fashioned, but even with the benefits in mind I still return to the age old question of whether or not we should interfere so much with our own creation. Suffering has been and probably will always be a part of life, and whilst genetic disorders are undoubtedly devastating the guilt of going too far and taking such large medical risks also has the potential to be devastating. It is certainly a difficult issue to grapple with, and both sides of the argument are strong.

As we are fully immersed in the uncertain space of the “three-person baby” debate I leave you with another, but final question; if certain genetic disorders will never be eliminated through nature or evolution should we take charge of our genetic future and do what we can to eliminate the suffering ourselves?

Sarah Wood, Online Features Columnist

If you missed Sarah Wood’s last column on embracing the process of ageing, you can find it here. You can also find all our other Features columns here.

Sense and Sensitivity: “You Have to Embrace Getting Older” Meryl Streep, I Couldn’t Agree More

 February 5, 2015 In her latest column for Exeposé Features, Sarah Wood challenges our attitudes to ageing, instead claiming that we should consider the process as a privilege.   I am weeks away from my twentieth birthday and I recently found myself … Continue reading

Sense and Sensitivity: Count Nutrients not Calories

As many people choose to create New Years resolutions surrounding their eating habits, Sarah Wood looks at the diet.

Year after year as soon as the New Year approaches it is never long before I hear someone vowing to go on a diet. Whether it has been my mother, her friends, or family members there has been an association with calorie counting and health, and I am not so sure the two should be associated so closely and definitely. I feel hypocritical advising others against calorie counting. I myself have vigorously counted the calories time and time again. I have even kept food diaries and charts, and found myself in tears when I had consumed more calories than I was ‘allowed’. It’s taken a long time, but I have shifted my outlook drastically. I want to emphasise that in those times of restriction I was unhappy, irritable, and the most malnourished I’ve ever felt. Focusing on the quantity of food and recording everything is exhausting, and I want to explain why it is utterly unnecessary. Focusing on the quality of the nourishment in your diet is a resolution that is a realistic commitment.

A calorie is a unit of measurement for the energy potential of food and is measured by bomb calorimeters which do not work the same way as our bodies. What we predict our bodies to do may not necessarily happen. The key word to focus on here is ‘potential’. To me, this word is perfect to explain why calorie counting is dangerous. Think of it this way, considering those calories come from wholesome, nutritious food the ‘potential’ is the vital energy we need to nourish and encourage our bodies. Studies by Dr Michael Noonan illuminate this point. Noonan emphasises in an article written for Bangor Daily News that we should not eat anything that “isn’t food” this includes hydrogenated fats and artificial sweeteners which are common ingredients in low calorie diet foods. Noonan continues and argues that using low fat foods to control weight is a myth we must start debunking, making it clear that a diet low in fat will also be a diet low in vital fat based nutrients like vitamins A, D, and E. Dr Michael Noonan’s study encourages an attitude that If we can help it, we should aim to maximise the energy potential from our food not deplete it. That we need to work with our metabolism, not against it no matter how frustrating it can be. Our bodies thrive off of energy, and whilst nutrition is a way of life, calorie counting is a distraction from life.

I think it is important to compare the goal of both calorie counting and nutrition watching. The ultimate goal for counting calories and restriction is weight loss, but what about health? Unless you have been advised by a doctor or health professional to lose weight because it is affecting the quality of your life surely weight loss should not be a goal. Those two words ‘weight loss’ have become words I now associate with danger, sadness, and emptiness. Now I’m by no means saying weight gain should be a goal but I attempting to illustrate a point. My point, is that our bodies want to be healthy. They want nutrients, vitamins, healthy fats, and occasional treats. Our bodies need balance and unnecessary
weight loss is a threat to that balance. Nutrition doesn’t need to be associated with weight, because that isn’t the goal. The goal is health and wellness. When weight is no longer the centre of attention, it can be replaced with health. If only I had asked myself questions such as “how am I ensuring my health is optimized, and my body is strong?” instead of “how much weight do I still need to shift?” maybe I wouldn’t obsess over making it my business to analyse and scrutinize the latest health regimes.

It may have taken me until adolescence to learn that the process of burning fat or turning nutrients into energy is more complex than simply calorie counting. That if the goal is to lose weight the body will respond better when lean muscle mass is increased, but I’m glad. I’m glad that I had to learn the hard way. Needing to educate myself about the way my body works as a shameful result of depleted health has made nutrition a definite priority in my life. Committing yourself to counting the amount of nutrients you are feeding your body is a far more freeing and manageable approach to your diet. I really do empathise with people who cannot shift their focus from consuming as little calories and fat as possible to wholeness, relaxation, and nutrition because the two mind-sets are unfortunately constantly referred to in unison. We are constantly being fed conflicting information, however, as a way to grasp hold of some clarity I urge you to contemplate one question: How can we possibly recover from running out of energy? And I invite you to share my resolution to view every mealtime as an opportunity to nourish and be kind to your body.

P.S Chocolate is not off the menu (so long as it is raw)

Sarah Wood, Online Features Columnist

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