Can A Baby Have Three Biological Parents?

One of the most consequential and concerning aspects of the way our culture has redefined the word “family” concerns the ways we reproduce. Unfortunately, few realize the dangers of what’s already happened, including many in the pro-family movement. These developments are taking us away from the fundamental and necessary human experience of children coming from the loving and passionate union of a man and woman. In many ways, it’s making the creation of children technical and contractual rather than marital. 

Last year, there was a big development on this front—and curiously, it stemmed from very pro-family ideals. A Jordanian couple traveled to Mexico, where they gave birth to their son with the assistance of a cutting-edge, Chinese-American fertility specialist from New York City. But the
globalism of this process is not the big news.

This is: The baby is the first to be born as the full biological offspring of three different adults. He has two biological mothers and a father.

Some countries permit more than two adults to be listed as the legal parents of a child, and often even on the birth certificate. This will no doubt happen eventually throughout the United States, and is already common  practice in California and Canada for same-sex couples who want their egg or sperm donors to be listed as legal parents.

But this story is different, expanding the number of biological parents a child can have. Dr. John Zhang, the fertility specialist who managed the procedure and delivered the child, says this breakthrough will “revolutionize and change human reproduction.” He’s correct—and that is the concern.

Party of Three

The circumstances driving the desire for such a birth are curiously pro-family and pro-life in its motivations. Let me explain. 

This orthodox Muslim couple desperately wanted to start a family, and had already gone through a great deal of heartbreak and trouble to do so. The mother had four tragic miscarriages because she carries the gene for the deadly and rare Leigh syndrome—a condition that would likely keep any child she was able to carry to term from developing muscularly and neurologically. Death would come within years. 

So Zhang suggested an innovative procedure called spindle nuclear transfer. That involved taking  the nucleus from one of the mother’s eggs—the part which didn’t carry the deadly gene—and inserting it in the healthy donated egg of another woman which had its nucleus removed. This new fabricated egg made with nuclear DNA from the mother and mitochondrial DNA from the donor was fertilized invitro by the intended mother’s husband. 

As faithful Muslims, the couple insisted the procedure not destroy any embryonic human life, which it didn’t. Pro-family, pro-life. Can’t we all celebrate this? Not so much.

The first concern is three-party fertility, which actually has been with us for some time in the form of surrogate pregnancy, sperm donation and the like: A man and woman contract with a third party to produce a new child by purchasing an egg, sperm or leasing a woman’s womb for nine months of gestation and a painful and exhausting final day of labor. Expanding such a beautiful and sacred process to three or more people is immoral, violating the form of God’s first command for humanity, given to us in Genesis 1:28. It brings a third party into the exclusivity of the marital union and reminds us we can only see the procreative act as something disconnected from the sex act if we buy into the lie of the sexual revolution. One cannot really be separated from the other. They are, in the ideal, an organic and marital whole.

Second, it not only revolutionizes how we create new human beings, but enables us to make totally new kinds of human beings—a child whose biological, genetic lineage involves multiple people. This child will no doubt grow under the care of one mother and father, never knowing the third parent who gave him a great deal of his own nature. This dismisses an actual parent as a mere procreative contractor. 

Identity Crises

Beyond the very serious unintended potential consequences of significantly compromised health
of artificially created children—detailed in a piece published in the official medical journal of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
last September—this general biological-parent-as-contractor
model has created incredibly deep and wholly unexpected struggles of identity for these children as they grow into adulthood. 

We are told today that “love” is what makes a family—and thus, any loving collection of children and adults is just as good as any other. But the children of such unions tell us a different story. This is true in the case of pro-
creative contractors. 

Many of these sperm- /egg-donation kids, as they grow, are telling us in very poignant ways they suffer from being “genetic orphans,” a term of identity they created and use for themselves. A major study conducted at the University of Texas at Austin, titled “My Daddy’s Name is Donor,” revealed that 43 percent of adult donor offspring say they regularly worry about “who is a member of my family and who is not,” compared to only 15 percent of adopted adults. Forty-six percent of adult donor offspring say they worry the person they’re romantically attracted to could be a relative. Only 17 percent of adopted adults worry about this. 

The stunning differences here are important to realize. These adult children’s experiences demonstrate that knowing who you are and what your lineage consists of is no small thing and should not be ignored on the front end when the desires of the adults seems to be the only consideration. There is something uniquely inherent to the donor process that heightens these anxieties, and the experiences these children are telling us about demonstrate this.

Similarly concerning is the situation we find ourselves in with family formation today. The consensus that children, as much as possible, should ideally be born to married mothers and fathers is now very small in our cultural rearview mirror.  Of course, to even speak of this form of family as the ideal is newly condemned as the new Jim Crow bigotry. If it’s not about mom and dad, then parentage becomes whatever the adults involved want it to be. Those who yield to falsely and manipulatively named “marriage equality” so the friendly lesbian couple next door can marry have not appreciated that what they see as  simply a minor change in the law carries very surprising, unanticipated and troubling consequences.

And so we come to our present situation: The opportunity to create three genuinely biological parents takes us further away from the time-tested human ideal. Janet, June and James can all now be little Jimmy’s biological parents. As the Jordanian couple used it to serve the natural family and did so with strong pro-life convictions, others will use it to create families that increasingly challenge that ideal. Our children will be the casualties. And as they are our future, we will be the losers as well.  

As G.K. Chesterton presciently said in the Superstition of Divorce, “This triangle of truisms, of father, mother and child, cannot be destroyed; it can only destroy those civilizations which disregard it.”

Unfortunately, we are further down the track toward seeing just how right he was.

Originally published in the April 2017 issue of Citizen magazine.
© 2017 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved.