Three Parents Better Than Two?

Family/Kids, News, Technology

An FDA panel has begun debating over whether to test a new process on humans that combines DNA from three people. The process can eliminate DNA mutations, allowing women to carry children without passing on defects such as blindness, epilepsy, muscular dystrophy, and respiratory problems.

The process involves taking defective mitochondria from an intended mother’s egg and replacing them with healthy mitochondria from another woman’s eggs. If approved for human testing (five healthy monkeys have been produced using the technique), the procedure would mark the first FDA approval of gene modification affecting a person’s descendants.

Obviously this comes with a huge debate over the ethics and safety of such a procedure, whether it’s aimed at disease prevention or not. Many fear that the process could open the door to the phenomenon of parents creating their own “designer” babies, hand-picking their children’s genetic traits.

Another question the process raises is whether a child can legally manage to have more than two parents. As it turns out, some children are already beginning to list more than two legal parents on their birth certificate.

Children May Have More Than 2 Legal Parents

A Florida judge recently approved the adoption of a baby that will have three people listed as parents on her birth certificate — a lesbian couple, one of whom gave birth to the child, and a man who donated his sperm to the biological mother.

The two women asked their hairdresser to provide his sperm for artificial insemination, planning that one woman would give birth and the other would adopt the child as a co-parent. The man assumed he would be considered a father, but was blindsided when the women asked him to sign paperwork stating he was only a sperm donor and would therefore (according to Florida law) have no parental rights.
The man hired a lawyer, and after a two-year paternity fight the judge ruled that the two women will have sole parental rights, with the man being allowed visitation.  He will not provide child support.

Just a month ago, a Vancouver baby became the first child in British Columbia with three parents listed on a birth certificate. Before the baby was conceived (without a clinic, via the “homestyle” method of conception using donated sperm), the lesbian couple and their male friend created a written contract, outlining how their family would work. The couple would have custody, and well as financial responsibility; the man would be a guardian, with rights to access. British Columbia is the first province in Canada with legislation to allow three parents on a birth certificate, although it’s been achieved elsewhere through litigation. Birth certificates in some places, in fact, now allow up to four parents to be listed, although parents must go through some extra paperwork to get it done.

Being a parent is legally shifting away from pure genetics and toward looking at the intention of parties who are contributing to the creation of a child and those who intend to raise the child. It will be interesting to see just how many parents we can fit on a birth certificate in the future, let alone in one little embryo.