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Human Nuclear Genome Transfer (So‑Called Mitochondrial Replacement): Clearing the Underbrush

Posted by nte on December 14, 2016 in In Print

Baylis, F. (2017). Human nuclear genome transfer (so-called mitochondrial replacement): Clearing the underbrush. Bioethics, 31, 7-19.  doi:10.1111/bioe.12309


In this article, I argue that there is no compelling therapeutic ‘need’ for human nuclear genome transfer (so-called mitochondrial replacement) to prevent mitochondrial diseases caused by mtDNA mutations. At most there is a strong interest in (i.e. ‘want’ for) this technology on the part of some women and couples at risk of having children with mitochondrial disease, and perhaps also a ‘want’ on the part of some researchers who see the technology as a useful precedent – one that provides them with ‘a quiet way station’ in which to refine the micromanipulations techniques essential for other human germline interventions and human cloning. In advance of this argument, I review basic information about mitochondrial disease and novel genetic strategies to prevent the transmission of mutated mitochondria. Next, I address common features of contemporary debates and discussions about so-called mitochondrial replacement. First, I contest the cliché that science-and-(bio)technology is fast outpacing ethics. Second, I dispute the accuracy of the term ‘mitochondrial replacement’. Third, I provide a sustained critique of the purported ‘need’ for genetically-related children. In closing, I call into question the mainly liberal defense of human nuclear genome transfer. I suggest an alternative frame of reference that pays particular attention to issues of social justice. I conclude that our limited resources (time, talent, human eggs, and money) should be carefully expended in pursuit of the common good, which does not include pandering to acquired desires (i.e., wants).