COMMENTARY: It takes two ... no wait ... three to tango?


By Marie E. Matyjaszek

It is said that it takes two to tango but if England's House of Lords votes in favor of new legislation it will take three in some cases when it comes to procreation. And no, this is not anything of the kinky sort it's strictly scientific, so please remove your minds from the gutter.

Many of you may have seen the recent news articles on the proposed "three-person babies" legislation from jolly old England. When I started reading, I was transported to high school science class as soon as the word "mitochondrial" screamed at me from the website. So, here's a refresher course for you. Everyone has mitochondrial DNA, which can only be passed down from the mother genetically. It lives in most of our cells, with the job of magically transforming the food we eat into energy.

If the mitochondria are not healthy, this can lead to devastating and fatal diseases and conditions, which can be passed down from generation to generation if those with the flawed DNA procreate. So, the question posed to scientists was how to remove the bad mitochondria and replace it with healthy ones, without completely removing the woman with the issue from the equation?

This is the point where it becomes all twilight zone-y scientists have actually found a way to do it. Most are familiar with IVF (in vitro fertilization), where a sperm and egg are fertilized in a laboratory and then the embryo is transferred into the woman's uterus. This procedure is frequently used in cases where couples suffer from infertility. The three-person baby technique builds on that process and unites the DNA from the original couple with the healthy mitochondria of another woman. This results in the child having three DNA donations, but the donation from the healthy woman only comprises 0.1 percent of the child's overall DNA. It doesn't impact the child's looks or intelligence so for all intents and purposes, the child is going to be a product of its mom and dad, minus one teensy-weensy piece.

Members of Parliament voted in favor of a law allowing this scientific technique, and now it's the House of Lords' turn to cast its vote. As one would imagine, there are a slew of ethical and scientific debates about this topic. Will people use it to create "designer babies," choosing everything from height, eye color, and hair? Is it too close to playing God? It's easy to see the "slippery slope" argument that many churches and others are discussing.

On the other hand, this technique allows parents who have lost children from these diseases and have no real chance for a healthy, biological child, an opportunity to essentially erase specific birth defects from the family bloodline, and achieve their dream of having a healthy son or daughter.

If this law passes in England, I'm betting that it will have a huge ripple effect in the United States sooner rather than later. After all, isn't England our "Mother Country?"
Marie E. Matyjaszek is a family law attorney whose blog is: She can be reached by e-mailing her at

Published: Fri, Mar 27, 2015