In this episode, we talk about scientists experimenting with “three parent embryos” and the “Brave New” United States where there are no restrictions on this or other once unthinkable kinds of human experimentation currently in practice. We also discuss the impact this kind of experimentation has on women. Ladies, pay attention. Human biotechnology is a women’s issue if ever there was one.
As Rebecca notes in our conversation, the Catholic Church is considers somatic gene therapy, non-inheritable genetic engineering in one individual for therapeutic reasons, is a moral good. But She draws a clear line between somatic and germ-line gene therapy.
Dignitas Personae, the 2008 instruction on bioethics from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, states:
“Procedures used on somatic cells for strictly therapeutic purposes are in principle morally licit. … The moral evaluation of germ-line cell therapy is different. Whatever genetic modifications are effected on the germ cells of a person will be transmitted to any potential offspring. Because the risks connected to any genetic manipulation are considerable and as yet not fully controllable in the present state of research, it is not morally permissible to act in a way that may cause possible harm to the resulting progeny. In the hypothesis of gene therapy on the embryo, it needs to be added that this only takes place in the context of in vitro fertilization [IVF] and thus runs up against all the ethical objections to such procedures. For these reasons, therefore, it must be stated that, in its current state, germ-line cell therapy in all its forms is morally illicit.”
Even though the intent of creating three-parent embryos is therapeutic in nature, because IVF is required and because this is a germ-line modification, Catholics cannot embrace this procedure.
It is important that we educate our families, friends and neighbors about unethical germ-line modifications before they become mainstream. Once the modifying of egg and sperm becomes commonplace with IVF, there is the real possibility that such techniques won’t just be used to simply fix broken genes. They may be used to modify our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren with whatever enhancements to the human genome we can dream up.
Previously: BioTalk, Episode 1: Prenatal Genetic Testing