News in Brief–Three Biological Parents

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I’ve written about how to attachment to genetics as the primary basis for parenthood binds us to a view of two and only two parents. Increasing use of assisted reproductive technology is, however, spurring us to at least loosen that connection which does encourage me.

Now here’s a development that pushes the envelope in some ways–three people genetically linked to the same embryo. One woman contributes mitochondrial DNA while the other two (one male and one female) each contribute nuclear DNA. The media seems to readily accept this as a three-parent embryo. While I’m hardly enthusiastic about the unreflective assumption that the genetics makes all people parents, at least it gets us past the “two and only two” point.

But the continuing attachment to DNA does create a potential irony out there in our future. What you end up with if you do this is an embryo. (That’s as far as they’ve gone for now.) To go further you’d need to implant the embryo in a woman’s uterus, who would then eventually give birth to a child. It’s striking to me that the press seems to be quite ready to call the donor of mitochondrial DNA a parent while the status of the woman who carries the developing embryo for nine months and ultimately gives birth is not so clear–many would call her a surrogate. That, of course, is a measure of our investment in the DNA is parentage model and our accompanying willingness to devalue the unique labor of women.

Oh well. I can’t wait till they figure out parthenogenesis.

-Julie Shapiro (cross posted to Related Topics)

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