Assisted Reproductive Law, DNA and Three-Parent Babies

Victoria Ferrara


Last Friday, I was a guest lecturer at Quinnipiac University School of Medicine . It was a wonderful experience speaking to medical students about infertility law, assisted reproduction law and surrogacy. The course was on bioethics and the Professor of the course who invited me to speak was Dr. Linda Ellis, Associate Professor of Medical Sciences. Dr. Ellis is an accomplished pathologist with experience in both anatomical and clinical pathology, and she earned a master's of jurisprudence degree in health law at the Loyola University Chicago School of Law. 

One of the topics we covered was the latest technological breakthrough on using DNA from three people to create an embryo, the so-called "three parent babies." In the U.K. recently, the legislature passed a law allowing women with mitochondrial disease to obtain donor eggs and inject their own DNA into the donor egg. By doing so, a resulting embryo will have the mitochondrial DNA from the donor egg, the nuclear DNA from the intended mother and the DNA from the sperm of the father (or donor if donor sperm is used). While the technology is amazing, there are pros and cons of furthering the use of the technique.

From a scientific standpoint, this marks a breakthrough in reproductive technology. And for the thousands of families suffering with mitochondrial disorders, this is very exciting news.  For the first time, mothers with mitochondrial diseases can have healthy biological children of their own. 

A fact sheet by Wellcome Trust, a biomedical research charity based in London, states that "nuclear DNA is not altered, and so mitochondrial donation will not affect the child's appearance, personality or any other features that make a person unique -- it will simply allow the mitochondria to function normally and the child to be free of mitochondrial DNA disease.  The healthy mitochondria will also be passed on to any children of women born using the technique."

According to the latest estimates from the research team, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, almost 2,500 women of childbearing age in the UK are at risk of transmitting mitochondrial disease to their children, while in the United States, the number is more than 12,400. 

The California-based Center for Genetics and Society, in an open letter to UK lawmakers last month, said that although the proposed goal was noble, "the techniques will in fact put women and children at risk for severe complications, divert resources from promising alternatives and treatments, and set a policy precedent that experimentation on future generations is an acceptable biomedical/fertility development."

What was great about discussing this in a class and lecture setting was to engage with the students as well as Dr. Ellis and a geneticist in the classroom on the impact of this new technology, the ethical dilemmas of using such technology and the ideas and possible solutions for going forward as medical technology continues to advance.


Quinnipiac's School of Medicine is named for Dr. Frank H. Netter, the noted surgeon and world's most prolific medical illustrator. Beginning in the late 1930s, Dr. Netter began illustrating the entire anatomic and pathologic character of the human body, system by system. "As a medical illustrator, Dr. Netter provided generations of students with scientific and medical information that was simply not available before his works were widely published," said Dr. Bruce Koeppen, founding dean of the school.  

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