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A child with 3 genetic parents? It's a daunting possibility

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Jan 28, 2013

What would be the moral implications of producing a child with three biological parents? The National Catholic Register offers a disturbing but thought-provoking analysis of that question—which, unfortunately, is no longer far-fetched.

Scientists in Oregon have discovered a way to transplant the nucleus from an egg supplied by one woman into an egg supplied by another donor. When fertilized by a man’s sperm and implanted in a woman’s womb, the resulting embryo would carry genetic material from three different people. The process, which would be carried out through in vitro fertilization, offers a means of overcoming mitochondrial disease.

Rebecca Taylor explains in her Register analysis that the scientists’ approach in this case is morally unacceptable for several reasons: because it involves in vitro fertilization, which separates procreation from the marital act; because it is dangerous to the unborn child; and because it involves genetic engineering, which opens the door to a host of frightening abuses.

Unfortunately the Church’s teachings do not dictate American public-policy decisions, as the rising popularity of in vitro fertilization proves. Federal officials could approve the creation of 3-parent embryos, citing the very legitimate need to counteract mitochondrial diseases as a justification. Indeed Taylor reveals that at least two children have already been born with genetic material from three donors!

Quite apart from the moral implications, these artificial-reproduction techniques could create some knotty legal problems. Would the courts recognize the woman who donated the nucleus as the sole legal “mother” of the child? What about the woman who donated the egg, containing the mitochondrial DNA? What are the legal implications of recognizing three parents for one child?

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: feedback - Jun. 11, 2018 11:18 PM ET USA

    Talking about a "sacred vow to maintain the seal of Confession," the Archbishop might have referred to the Ordination rite. The first question the Bishop asks is, "Do you resolve, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to discharge without fail the office of priesthood in the presbyteral rank, as worthy fellow workers with the Order of Bishops for the Lord's flock?" The affirmative response to that question means following all the laws of the Church, including Canons 983 and 984 of the Canon Law.

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Jun. 11, 2018 6:38 PM ET USA

    Archbishop Prowse could not be more right about one thing: "The draft laws are a consequence of the profound failure of the leadership of the church." The infection of the Church hierarchy by the zeitgeist from the 1960s through the 2000s resulted in untold hundreds, if not thousands, of vocations to the priesthood not even remotely suitable for this service, and downright dangerous to boy children. Recent news accounts indicate the Church might finally be "getting it." Let us pray this is so.

  • Posted by: garedawg - Jan. 29, 2013 10:53 AM ET USA

    Man, and I thought that old song "I'm my own Grandpa" was a brain-twister!