The ethics of creating children with three genetic parents

Published:March 27, 2013DOI:


      This article on mitochondrial replacement technology briefly explains and defends the legitimacy of such terms as ‘three-parent embryos’, ‘three-parent babies’ and ‘three-person IVF’. Next, it reviews select ethical objections to mitochondrial replacement technology that fall into four, sometimes overlapping, categories: (i) harms to egg providers; (ii) harms to potential offspring and future generations; (iii) harms to specific interest groups; and (iv) harms to society. Taken together, these ethical objections are cause for serious concern and yet the development and future use of mitochondrial replacement technology is likely inevitable.


      To read this article in full you will need to make a payment


      1. Anonymous, 2008. Three-parent embryo formed in lab. BBC News, 5 February. Available from: <>.

        • Barritt J.A.
        • Brenner C.A.
        • Malter H.E.
        • Cohen J.
        Mitochondria in human offspring derived from ooplasmic transplantation.
        Hum. Reprod. 2001; 16: 513-516
        • Baylis F.
        Black as me: narrative identity.
        Developing World Bioethics. 2003; 3: 142-150
        • Baylis F.
        ‘Babies with some animal DNA in them’: a woman’s choice?.
        Int. J. Feminist Approach. Bioethics. 2009; 2: 75-96
        • Baylis F.
        The self in situ: a relational account of personal identity.
        in: Downie J. Llewellyn J. Relational Theory and Health Law and Policy. UBC Press, Vancouver2011: 109-131
        • Baylis F.
        • Robert J.S.
        The inevitability of genetic enhancement technologies.
        Bioethics. 2004; 18: 1-26
        • Baylis F.
        • Robert J.S.
        Radical rupture: exploring biological sequelea of volitional inheritable genetic modification.
        in: Rasko J.E.J. O’Sullivan G.M. Ankeny R.A. The Ethics of Inheritable Genetic Modification. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge2006: 131-148
        • Bredenoord A.
        • Braude P.
        Ethics of mitochondrial gene replacement: from bench to bedside.
        Br. Med. J. 2011; 342: 87-89
        • Bredenoord A.
        • Dondorp W.
        • Pennings G.
        • De Wert G.
        Ethics of modifying the mitochondrial genome.
        J. Med. Ethics. 2011; 37: 97-100
        • Cohen J.
        • Scott R.
        • Schimmel T.
        • Levron J.
        • Willadsen S.
        Birth of infant after transfer of anucleate donor oocyte cytoplasm into recipient eggs.
        Lancet. 1997; 350: 186-187
        • Cohen J.
        • Scott R.
        • Alikani M.
        • Schimmel T.
        • Munné S.
        • Levron J.
        • Wu L.
        • Brenner C.
        • Warner C.
        • Willadsen S.
        Ooplasmic transfer in mature human oocytes.
        Molecular Human Reproduction. 1998; 4: 269-280
        • Craven L.
        • Tuppen H.A.
        • Greggains G.D.
        • Harbottle S.J.
        • Murphy J.L.
        • Cree L.M.
        • Murdoch A.P.
        • Chinnery P.F.
        • Taylor R.W.
        • Lightowlers R.N.
        • Herbert M.
        • Turnbull D.M.
        Pronuclear transfer in human embryos to prevent transmission of mitochondrial DNA disease.
        Nature. 2010; 465: 82-85
      2. Downie, J., Baylis, F., 2013. Transnational trade in human eggs: law, policy, and (in)action in Canada. J. Law Med. Ethics 41, 224–239.

        • Ethics Committee of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine
        Financial incentives in recruitment of oocyte donors.
        Fertil. Steril. 2004; 82: S240-S244
      3. Hayden, E.C., 2008. A step towards three-parent babies? Nature News, 6 February. Available from: <>.

        • Maxwell K.N.
        • Chost I.N.
        • Rosenwaks Z.
        The incidence of both serious and minor complications in young women undergoing oocyte donation.
        Fertil. Steril. 2008; 90: 2165-2171
      4. Nuffield Council on Bioethics, 2012. Novel Techniques for the Prevention of Mitochondrial DNA Disease: An Ethical Review. Available from: <>.

        • Taylor R.W.
        • Turnbull D.M.
        Mitochondrial DNA mutations in human disease.
        Nat. Rev. Genet. 2005; 6: 389-402
      5. Whitehouse, D., 2001. Genetically altered babies born. BBC News, 4 May. Available from: <>.