A 36-year-old Jordanian woman and her husband gave birth to their son in Mexico recently with the help of a cutting-edge, Chinese-American fertility specialist from New York City.
This is the first child ever born as the biological offspring of three different adults: two women and a man. Dr. John Zhang, the specialist who oversaw the procedure and delivered the child, says this breakthrough will “revolutionize and change human reproduction.” No doubt.
The familial circumstances leading to this news are certainly not socially revolutionary, but rather quite traditional. Zhang’s intention was to help this orthodox Muslim couple start their family. The mother had four previous miscarriages and carries the genes for the deadly Leigh syndrome that would likely keep any child she carried to term from developing muscularly and neurologically, bringing death within years. Zhang suggested an innovative procedure called spindle nuclear transfer.
To explain it simplistically, the nucleus from one of the mother’s eggs—the part that didn’t carry the deadly genes—was taken and inserted in the donated egg of another woman that had had its nucleus removed. This new fabricated egg made with nuclear DNA from the mother and mitochondrial DNA from the donor was fertilized by the intended mother’s husband. Having done this to five eggs, the one that started to develop normally in the lab was implanted, and the pregnancy was on. The medical journal that first announced the news says mother and infant are doing well.
As Muslims, the couple insisted the procedure not destroy any embryonic human life, which it didn’t, and a new married mother/father family was created. Pro-family, pro-life. Isn’t that certainly something to celebrate? Not really.
Three-Party Fertility Is Bad for Kids
The first concern here is something that is not new at all. It’s three-party fertility. A mother and father contract with a third party to produce a new child, by purchase of egg, sperm, or leasing a woman’s womb for nine months of gestation and a painful and exhausting final day of labor. Three-party involvement is not just immoral in the sexual act, but in the procreative one as well. In the ideal, both acts are integral cooperations of marital intimacy where others are not invited. Only in the modern age could we even consider the two as separate activities. They are indeed a continuity.
This present development has these moral problems to be sure. Even more, it not only revolutionizes how we create new human beings, but enables us to make totally new kinds of human beings: a child who is the biological, genetic lineage of three people. This particular three-month-old child will likely grow to think of himself as the child of one mother and father, perhaps never knowing the third parent who gave him a great deal of his own nature.
So dismissing one’s actual parent as a contractor has brought wholly unexpected problems in past sperm and egg donations. Beyond the serious unintended potential consequences of significantly compromised health for the child, it has created deep struggles of identity for the offspring as they grow into adulthood. Many of them suffer from being “genetic orphans,” a term of identity they created and use for themselves.
A major study conducted at the University of Texas at Austin revealed that 43 percent of adult donor offspring said they regularly worry about “who is a member of my family and who is not,” compared to only 15 percent of adopted adults. Forty-six percent of adult donor offspring (versus only 17 percent of adopted adults) say that when they become romantically attracted to someone, they worry whether the person could be a relative.
The stunning differences here are interesting. The experiences of these adult children demonstrate that knowing who you are is no small thing and should not be ignored on the front end. There seems to be something inherent in the donor process that heightens these anxieties.
Test Tubing Babies Has Significant Consequences
Similarly concerning is the situation we find ourselves in with family formation today. We are a long way removed from considering married moms and dads creating children to be ideal. Of course, to even speak of it now as the ideal is scorned as the new Jim Crow bigotry. If it’s not about mom and dad, then parentage becomes whatever the adults involved want it to be. Citizens who support so-called “marriage equality” so the friendly lesbian couple next door can marry have not appreciated that what they see as a simply a minor change in the law carries very surprising consequences.
When Canada passed same-sex marriage, they made it legal for three or more adults to be assigned parentage of a child. California law allows the same thing. Not long ago Canada took it even further. They now allow a child to have three parents listed on her birth certificate. You see, the same-sex-parenting experiment demands this. It’s not rare for same-sex couples to do three- or four-way parenting: the couple, the egg/sperm donor, and possibly her/his partner. If you add in a surrogate carrier and partner, this could potentially include six adults who desire to be legal parents.
So parentage is based on what the adults desire rather than who the child’s actual family is. Thus, this selfishness requires the “Love makes a family” gloss. But no child should need an org-chart to explain her artificially constructed, experimental family.
So we come to our present situation: the opportunity for three genuinely biological parents takes us further away from the time-tested human ideal. Janet, June, and James can all now be little Jimmy’s biological parents. As the Jordanian couple used it to serve the natural family, others will use it by necessity to create families that challenge the unique and necessary virtue of that ideal. And the children, our future, will be the causalities.
As G.K. Chesterton presciently said in the “Superstition of Divorce,” “This triangle of truisms, of father, mother and child, cannot be destroyed; it can only destroy those civilisations which disregard it.”