In 1989, the book “Heather Has Two Mommies” became the first lesbian-themed children’s book ever published. For many Christians, it was the first time they became aware of an effort to redefine the family.
Of course, the fictional “Heather” didn’t really have two mommies—she was simply being raised by two women.
But a recent announcement takes redefining the family to a whole new level by making it possible for real-life Heathers to have two real-life mommies.
Researchers at Oregon Health and Sciences University recently announced that they had successfully created embryos containing DNA from one man and two women.
To understand how they did this, a review of human genetics is in order: Each of us has two kinds of DNA. The first, usually called chromosomal, are inherited from both mother and father.
The second, lesser known kind is mitochondrial DNA. We only inherit mitochondrial DNA from our mothers.
Mutations in mitochondrial DNA can cause diseases with symptoms including “strokes, epilepsy, dementia, blindness, deafness, kidney failure, and heart disease.” Because these disease-causing mutations are part of the genetic packages from our mothers, women who carry these mutations face a difficult choice: conceive a child knowing illness likely follows, or forego childbirth altogether.
So what the Oregon researchers did was to replace the part of one woman’s DNA that contained a mutation with DNA from another woman that didn’t. The result is an embryo with two kinds of DNA . . . or, in one sense, an embryo with two mommies.
Now it’s telling that British authorities, confronted with a similar experiment in 2008, have yet to approve its use. Why? Because of two concerns that should also concern us.
First, there’s the concern that this technology, originally intended to eliminate disease, could be adapted to produce “designer babies.” That’s a concern we should take seriously. Harnessing the power of the atom did give us a powerful source of energy, but it also gave us an efficient way to kill millions of people.
Since the line between what counts as an illness and what counts as an inconvenience is already becoming more and more blurry, it’s quite possible the line between what’s considered healing and what’s actually mere enhancement will too.
The second concern is that the impact on the descendants of the genetically-mixed child is unknown. As Laurie Zoloth, a bioethicist at Northwestern University, told the AP, safety issues might not manifest themselves for generations. And while preventing hereditary illness is a worthwhile goal, “this might not be the best way to address it.”
Unfortunately, the more recent history of bio-medical sciences reveals a strong reluctance to limit scientific progress on the basis of ethical concern. Absent legal barriers, we tend to live by the motto “if we can do it, we should do it.” But we can’t always predict the future, can we? After all, what has email done to grammar? Or texting to spelling?
So while no one has proven this procedure unsafe, there’s well-founded reason to be reluctant to cross this line. Preventing illness is a noble end, but not all means to that end are equally noble.
Also, there’s this unspoken assumption that there’s a “right” to have children that are biologically ours and do not have inconvenient conditions. While Christians believe that children are an unconditional good, that doesn’t mean that anything goes in the pursuit of parenthood.
And two biological mothers is definitely a case of “anything goes.” And where it’s leading us is a reality far more troubling than children’s fiction.
Concerns about science and ethics must be addressed by Christians. We’ve rightly been concerned about politics lately, but as I discuss on this week’s “Two-Minute Warning,” now that we’re post-election, there’s much broader cultural work to do. Come to BreakPoint.org, click on the “Two-Minute Warning” to listen.