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Three Parents

Baby Boy with Three Parents

Three Parents
Dr John Zhang with the boy who has DNA from three people

A boy was born recently who has DNA from three parents.

This post wants us to move beyond the specifics of this particular case, and compassion for these parents, to asking ethical questions, and in particular: are we ready (or at least preparing) for increasingly-complex ethical questions?

My own church (Anglicanism in NZ and internationally) has, for decades now, poured huge (and often acrimonious) energy into the ethical question of whether committed same-sex couples can be blessed. Some valuable by-product might have been hoped for – development of agility with complex, new moral questions, but in my own context I generally see no such competency. I contend that the average leader in my church cannot tell their teleologicalism from their deontologicalism.

At best, what the shouting match for the church’s topic du decade has done is honed some biblical interpretation approaches (and not, mind you, in a way that is convincing across the church’s divides). But the new ethical issues increasingly confronting us cannot so easily be responded to by a Bible-alone approach. Furthermore, a Bible-alone approach may convince some within our own community, but if we are not to slide further along the church-sect-cult spectrum, and if we have done the ethical clarification that morals are not merely “for us” but “for all”, then we have to have agility in ethical theories that allow us to engage with the wider community beyond the walls of our shrinking church.

Some, in our church community, may be convinced by the side of ethical approaches that has that “it is wrong because God says it is wrong”, but beyond our walls that approach carries little weight. We will need much greater appreciation of the approach that has that “God says it is wrong because it is wrong.”

The procedure to produce a child from three parents is illegal in USA, so it was carried out in Mexico – where there is no such regulation. “For religious reasons, the mother wanted to use a technique that would not require the destruction of fertilized eggs, which an approved treatment in the United Kingdom would require. The three-parent technique was the solution.”

So here we are presented with “religiously-reasoned” decisions on ethics which eschew an individual destroying fertilized eggs but accept producing a human with three parents. Whatever religious reasoning is involved, it is not the Roman Catholic Natural Law approach. And whatever you might think of Natural Law (or the RC magisterium’s use of it), it is an ethical approach that can be vigorously applied beyond church walls in a dynamic engagement in our world, including with our lawmakers.

Ironically, engaging spiritedly in the world’s ethical conundrums may turn out to be strongly evangelistic. Should there be agreement that there is some objective ethical standard (even though we do not yet agree what it is in a certain particular case) people are walking into the moral argument for the existence of God (even though they may not realise that, acknowledge that, or call God by this name).

But what I am increasingly finding is an unquestioned stretching of the postmodern paradigm to the point where beliefs do not need foundations – “my belief is my belief, full stop, end of story.” Many young people have experienced their formation as “every belief is equally valid; beauty and truth are in the eye of the beholder.”

What do you think?

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8 thoughts on “Baby Boy with Three Parents”

  1. It seems to me that this issue is strongly similar to the same sex couple situation which results in the raising of children with 3 parents.

    Similar concerns about how good this is for the children, and how good it is for children to be intentionally deprived of both a mother and a father present in their formative years.

    Which perhaps depends on whether one thinks there is anything particular to being male or female and what one thinks of gender theory.

    Then there are all the issues about how safe this medical procedure is and what are the future health implications for the baby. And the ethics of taking advantage of looser legal protections in developing countries for wealthy parents looking for designer babies.

    A lot of food for thought.

    Many Blessings

    1. Thanks, Chris,

      Your first three paragraphs would fit into a discussion about whether a family that has been deserted by a parent might be allowed to have the parent with the children marry again, a situation to which Roman Catholicism would say no (assuming the original marriage was valid) – raise the children without having two parents present.

      But those sorts of questions have been around for centuries. I’m trying to highlight the rapidly-increasing new ethical conundrums (designer babies, which you raise, are very much a case in point). Safety of medical procedures may very well be a way that many will make ethical decisions, but that in itself, as an ethical foundation, needs careful consideration.


    2. Bosco,

      The good of having both a father and a mother to raise children was recognised by Pope John Paul II who allowed such unions after divorce provided they were continent. Pope Francis has extended that, recognising (with Vatican II) that imposed continence can weaken the bond.

      Marriage annulments for a variety of reasons are very common in the Catholic Church today. Pope Francis has made them free.

      There is, of course, a difference between circumstances resulting in families without both a mother and a father and a conscious decision to create such a family.

      God Bless

  2. I think the young people’s reaction “my opinion is my opinion” reflects the socially destructive impact of radically individualistic neo-liberalism which also corrupts rational discussion. The “post truth” society/

    An interesting contrast with the Catholic empahsis of reasoned discussion as a moral discernment tool able to uncover objective truth.

    Many Blessings

  3. Another point of this discussion might look at the moral and ethical obligations to those who do not choose to have designer babies or terminate a pregnancy with a fetal abnormality. As the secular world, and western society, shifts more towards ‘perfect’ children, those who choose to keep a disabled child may begin to face societal stigma. If the Church is willing to say it is ‘ok’ for designer babies and children with three parents, but also is willing to say ‘ok’ and support those who intentionally bring a baby into the world with a less than perfect potential quality of life then we passively endorse a grey moral standard. While this might be perfectly fine in a practical sense, if the Church wishes to remain a pillar of morality and provide the world with a doctrine of ethics, the ramifications of being ‘grey’ could pose bigger issues.

    My mind is not made up either way on this topic, but I do agree it needs a great deal of discussion.


    1. Thanks, Bridie.

      Yes, it is not just the question of the intrinsic value of those who are differently abled but also how their presence in families and wider communities can enrich all our lives. As you intimate, there are new divisions on our horizons. When memory-enhancing-type drugs become available, does our society become even more divided into ‘those who can afford’ and ‘those who cannot’ (or as you indicate ‘choose not to use’) such? These are just a few examples. If my church has been widely discussing these issues, and the ethical models underpinning different conclusions, I’ve missed the discussions.


  4. Hey Bosco,

    I agree that the division between the lower and upper parts or society will only increase. However, we have an issue if we use existing ethical models. As you indicate, different models underpin different conclusions, so it is almost as if we decide what conclusions we want before we then prove our reasoning using an ethical model. For example, if we decide we have a duty to all human life then we turn to Kant’s Deontology. Perhaps an alternate option is to decide what we, as Christians, think is the most pleasing outcome to God, and then use the ethical models to show secular people why they might also agree with us; on the outcome, if not the reasoning.


    1. Thanks, Bridie.

      Christians agreeing what we “think is the most pleasing outcome to God” is itself not an easy task 🙂

      Certainly, I want to work in partnership with all people of good will.


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