Scientific advancements are redefining what it means to be human. Embryo creation enters a new era as scientists in the UK combine the reproductive DNA of, not two, but three different people. This results in children born with three genetic ‘parents.’

This is an incredible development in the realm of genetic technology. It allows scientists to play a preventive role by sparing children from incurable genetic diseases before they form the embryo.

But that’s not the whole story. This reproductive technology—like all forms of In vitro fertilization (IVF)—could easily dehumanize future generations of children if it is used for non-medically necessary ends, such as the creation of designer babies—or genetically-enhanced ultra-humans. If so, it must be rejected.

The latest treatment, mitochondrial donation treatment (MDT), is for women whose mitochondria may carry inheritable genetic diseases. Rather than relying on adoption or egg donation, this IVF method retains most of the mother’s egg, only replacing the mitochondria.

As NBC News describes it,

For a woman with faulty mitochondria, scientists take genetic material from her egg or embryo, which is then transferred into a donor egg or embryo that still has healthy mitochondria but had the rest of its key DNA removed.

But, what about the ‘third’ parent? Scientists estimate that less than 1% of the donor’s DNA remains in the resulting child’s genes. Still, this is a radical shift in how and from whom children are created.

In Begotten or Made, ethicist Oliver O’Donovan argued that people should assess reproductive technology based on if it restores or circumvents the body’s natural order.

A healthy use of technology empowers a person to better achieve what is biologically natural and good. An unhealthy use of technology harms, dehumanizes, or rejects the embodied self.

For example, if someone injures his or her arm in an accident, there are two approaches a doctor can take. First, doctors can heal the arm through surgery, medicine, and/or bandages. Second, if the doctor cannot heal the arm, he or she can use a prosthetic arm in its place. The prosthetic arm mimics a real arm. The difference, however, is that the prosthetic arm circumvents the problem. Why? Because instead of healing the arm, it replaces it with something else.

This is where it gets tricky. It’s not necessarily wrong for the solution (a prosthetic arm) to circumvent the problem (a destroyed arm). Yet when scientists alter the body through technology, it opens the door to new ethical and moral questions, especially in areas like reproduction. For example, imagine if a doctor took this treatment one step further and intentionally cut off a healthy arm, and replaced it with a prosthetic; this wouldn’t be healthy or good.

The creation of three-parent embryos allows doctors to circumvent a woman’s faulty mitochondria. This treatment does not heal a woman’s mitochondria, but it inserts another egg into the mix. Still, MDT can be a positive development if scientists limit its uses that support the natural, biological order. To do this, it’s important to consider three big ideas.

First, this treatment experiments with human life.

Some versions of MDT use the mother’s egg and a donor’s egg to replace the faulty mitochondria. But what about when scientists use a donor’s embryo? Scientists keep part of the embryo, but they discard the DNA that makes it unique. This creates an ethical dilemma, particularly for those who believe that each embryo represents a human life.

Second, it could encourage ‘designer’ babies.

As Oliver O’Donovan asks, what happens when society thinks that “medical technique ought to be used to overcome not only the necessities of disease but also the necessities of health?”

The treatment for faulty mitochondria could lead parents and scientists to ‘improve’ healthy eggs. Scientists could design babies using the DNA of a third person (or more) to change how the child will look, or even how strong, smart, or kind the child will be.

Third, this is a radical change in personhood.

Even though the third parent’s DNA makes up less than 1% of the child’s DNA, it’s still significant. Unlike an organ transplant, this third gamete is part of the child’s conception. It potentially adds a third ethnic heritage, medical history, and set of values. From the beginning, children have been born with the gametes of one man and one woman. But now, this treatment opens the door to the possibility of children born with DNA from three or more people.

Still, mitochondrial donation treatment points to an exciting future. If scientists can circumvent a woman’s faulty mitochondria with a donor’s egg or embryo, perhaps they can develop more advanced methods to restore faulty mitochondria within the mother’s egg—thus using technology to restore her body within the natural, biological order.