Earlier this month, a three-person baby was born in Greece, at a healthy 6 pounds (Gallagher, 2019; Wilkinson, 2019). Greek and Spanish doctors used a controversial technique in which they used DNA from the mother, and placed it into a donor egg (Gallagher, 2019; Wilkinson, 2019). The egg was then fertilized with sperm in a lab and placed back into the host woman’s uterus (Gallagher, 2019; Weiner, 2018; Wilkinson, 2019). This specialized technique of in-vitro fertilization (IVF) was determined necessary after the host mother underwent four unsuccessful rounds of IVF (Gallagher, 2019; Wilkinson, 2019).
This experimental procedure was made possible with the help of Embryotools, a Spanish organization that is focused on creating innovative solutions for animal reproduction and clinical embryology (About, n.d.). They currently have 24 other women participating in their trial, with 8 embryos ready for implementation (Gallagher, 2019). Their studies have been cited as highly controversial, with many people raising ethical questions. Some believe that these procedures should be limited to mothers that truly have a mitochondrial disorder or those with significant genetic conditions (Gallagher, 2019; Wilkinson, 2019). In the aforementioned example in Greece, the host mother was listed as a candidate after 4 failed cycles of IVF, but the mother may not have had a mitochondrial disorder (Gallagher, 2019; Wilkinson, 2019). Doctors that were not associated with the study suggested that another IVF attempt could have proven to be successful, without the usage of an egg donor (Gallagher, 2019; Wilkinson, 2019). Unfortunately, the study controls and design did not seek to determine if this technique was truly necessary for this mother (Wilkinson, 2019). This caused many others to raise questions about the laissez-faire usage of various IVF methods, and their role in the creation of “designer” babies (Weiner, 2018). “Designer babies” is a term used to describe the preselection of egg and sperm for particular features, like eye color, hair color and IQ (Weiner, 2018). These selections are made prior to fertilization, with the goal of birthing a baby that has “superior” features (Weiner, 2018). Meanwhile, other people question if the technique, which requires the altering of DNA, is ethical at all (Gallagher, 2019; Wilkinson, 2019).
According to Victor and Cullen (1987), the organization’s ethical work climate can be determined based on two factors of moral reasoning. The first factor, ethical criterion, determines the standard of moral reasoning being used: egoism, benevolence, or principle (Victor & Cullen, 1987). According to Embroyotools’ mission statement, they are focused on finding solutions to those in need (About, n.d.), which is a benevolence criterion (PSU, 2019; Victor & Cullen, 1987). Meanwhile, their locus of analysis is not at an individual or local perspective, but rather at a societal level of analysis (About, n.d.; Victor & Cullen, 1987; PSU, 2019). As a result, the company has a “social responsibility” ethical climate, where they focus on doing what is good for society as a whole (Victor & Cullen, 1988). The company website notes that they have the “highest standards and drive for excellence” as they seek to revolutionize the IVF industry for women all over the world (About, n.d.). They work with partners that have explained that it is a woman’s right to have a child with her own genes, and their research is helping to open doors for many women that have felt like this was not a possibility (About, n.d.; Gallagher, 2019).
Therefore, I believe that this company is focused on doing what is best for the greater good. However, in spite of their intentions, they should address the concerns that have been raised. Embryotools works with a global population (About, n.d.). In fact, the expertise involved in this study came from a variety of countries including the UK, Mexico, Ukraine, America, Spain and Greece (Gallagher, 2019; Wilkinson, 2019). As such, these global and multicultural interactions, from staff and potential customers, has led to a variety of cultural value conflicts, presented as ethical concerns (PSU, 2019). While the company would cease to exist if they stopped their research for every concern, there is a growing body of concern surrounding their trials that include women that do not have mitochondrial or genetic disorders (Gallagher, 2019; Wilkinson, 2019). Embryotools’ website cites that they are passionate about best practices (About, n.d.), so they could easily address these concerns by adding controls to their studies so that they do not perform DNA-altering procedures for women that may not need them. They should also set an expectation for how their products should ultimately be used, similar to how drug companies place standards outlining the ideal candidate for a particular drug. These kinds of guidelines would be aligned to the company’s mission, as they work to benefit women around the world. To some women, the benefit may be in the form of an innovative IVF technique, and in other cases it would be in a woman being cited as an inappropriate candidate for an unnecessary procedure. I also believe that these parameters may help the treatment become more accessible in certain cultures, allowing for a greater number of women to have access to the procedure.
Overall, Embryotools can create a more ethically-sound, socially responsible climate by putting greater controls on their studies. Guidelines to their research would allow for the creation of procedures that truly focus on benevolence and society as a whole (PSU, 2019; Victor & Cullen, 1988), as the company works to revolutionize our current understanding of reproduction.
About Us. (n.d.). Retrieved April 14, 2019, from https://embryotools.com/about-us/
Gallagher, J. (2019, April 11). ‘Three-person’ baby boy born in Greece. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/health-47889387
PSU. (2019). PSY 833: Ethics and leadership. Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1963919
Roberts, M. (2016, September 27). First ‘three person baby’ born using new method. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/health-37485263
Victor, B., & Cullen, J. B. (1987). A theory and measure of ethical climate in organizations. Research in Corporate Social Performance and Policy, 9, 51-71.
Victor, B., & Cullen, J. B. (1988). The organizational bases of ethical work climates. Administrative Science Quarterly, 33, 101-125.
Weiner, C. (2018, August 22). Mitochondrial Transfer: The making of three-parent babies. Retrieved from http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2018/mitochondrial-transfer-making-three-parent-babies/
Wilkinson, B. (2019, April 11). Controversial ‘three-person’ IVF used for baby boy born in Greece. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2019/04/11/health/birth-experimental-ivf-greece-scln-intl/index.html