In his novel Brave New World, Aldous Huxley immerses his readers in a seemingly perfect and peaceful world. Although a perfect and peaceful world is something that many idealize, Huxley soon begins to demystify the illusion. The population of the world is limited to two million people and the need for natural reproduction has been done away with. Most interestingly is that, from birth, people are genetically designed to fit into one of five castes. While recreational sex is highly encouraged in Aldous Huxley’s new world, the act of reproduction has been reduced to a mechanical and economic production.
While many could argue that Huxley’s novel is a highly fictionalized work, many bioethicists and scientists warn of the slippery slope we will hit if human trials commence on mitochondrial replacement. As previously mentioned, the US and the UK currently ban the implantation of a genetically modified embryo into a woman (Toynbee, 2014). However, the HFEA report surveying the public’s opinion on mitochondrial replacement shows a high amount of public support for the procedure, which could lead UK Parliament to change the regulation prohibiting the implantation (HFEA, 2013). While it can be argued that switching the mitochondrial genome in an embryo is nowhere near leading us to engineering nuclear DNA, passing a proposition, like Prop 44, would act as the precedent in future cases of human genetic engineering. Thus, as responsible voters we must ask ourselves, are we ready to go down this ‘slippery slope’ ? When will we decide to draw the line? Will we legally be able to draw a line if a precedent exists?
Furthermore, the procedure will likely be very expensive. For comparison, the average round of in vitro fertilization (IVF) costs around $12,400 in the United States (ASRM). Therefore, mitochondrial replacement could cost thousands more considering that IVF is just one part of the procedure. If Proposition 44 passes, who will pay for high-risk families to undergo this costly procedure? If families are required to pay, then socioeconomic disparities may arise where only people in higher socioeconomic statuses are able to afford the procedure and others are not. In that case, we could be returning to an era of eugenics in which wealthier families are allowed to reproduce and others are not. Requiring the government to pay would place a huge economic burden on the system, on top of the costs of mandatory newborn screening for mitochondrial disease.
In addition, Proposition 44 proposes mandating the procedure for high risk families wanting to have children. This imposition recalls some issues with government-funded forced sterilizations of mentally ill, disabled, low-income, minority, and otherwise unfit individuals, against their wills through the 1970s in the US (Lombardo). This eugenic practice, which was performed without the individual’s consent, is considered to be a major overstepping of boundaries and ethics by most people today. Passing Proposition 44 would require mitochondrial replacement, while some individuals might rather take the risks associated with mitochondrial disease rather than undergo the procedure for their own personal beliefs. Forcing them to use mitochondrial replacement could represent a return to eugenic practices.
Now that you know more about the possibility of a dystopian future, have you considered →Third parent rights and responsibilities?