This was a good week for exciting, breaking news in the reproductive world!
The Baby With Two To Three Parents. Last week, the first baby conceived using a new reproductive technique was born. The technique uses genetic material from three different persons. The parents, a Jordanian couple, had suffered through four miscarriages and the death of two children at early ages. Unfortunately, the mother had passed on a rare genetic condition known as “Leigh syndrome” to all of the previous children. Leigh syndrome is a genetic neuro-metabolic disorder characterized by the degeneration of the central nervous system.
Religiously Preferred Method. The couple worked with Dr. John Zhang to fertilize an ova with the new technique called a “spindle nuclear transfer.” Dr. Zhang took the nucleus of the mother’s eggs (the DNA core) and transferred it into donor’s eggs where the core had been removed. The combined eggs use the healthy mitochondria of the donor eggs. Then those eggs were fertilized with the father’s sperm.
Of the five embryos that were formed, one developed normally (the other four did not) and was transferred to the mother’s uterus for a successful pregnancy. The couple’s baby boy has been born and is apparently thriving. Although other “three-parent” techniques have been used, this new technique was specifically sought out by the parents who are Muslim because, unlike other techniques, it does not result in the destruction of embryos.
Not Permitted in the U.S. Dr. Zhang traveled to Mexico to perform the procedure, despite having his practice in New York. Although the procedure has been declared ethical in the U.S., it has yet to be approved by the FDA. The procedure, however, has been specifically studied and legally permitted in the United Kingdom.
Sci-Fi Mutant Baby or Transplant Recipient? Some critics have expressed concern that the new technique constitutes “playing God” and requires children to need “org charts” to understand their biological family tree. But the clinic in Mexico where the procedure was performed says these criticisms are based on a misunderstanding. The DNA of the baby is not from three parents, and instead the mother’s mitochondria has simply been replaced. Just as if the baby had received a kidney transplant, the baby’s genetic makeup hasn’t been changed.
One Country Gives the Green Light on Surrogacy. While other countries have been limiting surrogacy rights, one country recently updated their laws and specifically approved surrogacy. The Armenian parliament approved a new law on September 29, 2016, that specifically declares a surrogate mother not to be the legal mother of a child.
It is also permits foreigners to use Armenian surrogates – even if they are a same-sex couple. Sadly, unmarried individuals can’t use surrogates still. (As if being single isn’t already rough!) It also allows Armenian woman to act as surrogates a maximum of two times. Although Armenia probably won’t take India’s place as the new destination for surrogacy tourism, this does open it up to providing foreign couples another option.
A Victory for Vets. Last Wednesday, Congress approved legislation reversing a twenty-year ban on the Veterans Administration providing fertility services to veterans. As previously discussed here, the U.S. was not even providing fertility services to veterans who had sustained infertility-causing injuries in the line of duty. In a positive reversal of the policy, Congress has finally removed the ban. The removal of the ban, however, will have little effect unless reproductive services for veterans are in fact funded. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) has pushed for $88 million in appropriations to financially back fertility services to deserving American vets.