'Genetically Engineered' Teen Is Just Your Above-Average 13-Year-Old ... Who Never Gets Sick

three parentsFamily is a fluid idea. The definition of what makes up a family is constantly changing. It's also many different things to many different people. But each person's definition has one thing in common: At its best, family evokes an intense feeling of safety and love that is almost universal.

This is something 13-year-old Alana Saarinen knows a lot about. She looks like your average teenage girl, all blond hair and lanky limbs. But something about Alana makes her different, special, in a way that other children her age are not. Alana has three biological parents. In a controversial treatment, Alana's mother and father added the mitochondria cells of a second woman during their IVF procedure to conceive Alana. 


The idea at play is that mitochondria mutations on the mother's side can cause serious illness. Adding in new non-mutated cells can make for healthy living. Alana's parents say that she is proof that this procedure -- banned here in the United States -- really works. Still, the powers that be deem it too untested to make a standard practice.

There are a lot of issues at play here and a lot of things that give cause for concern. There are the same flags that fly whenever we discuss genetic testing -- are we playing God? But there are also more basic questions for the girl in question. Will Alana have a relationship with her female donor? Is that something she'll want as she gets older and begins to have a fuller understanding of where she comes from? I think ultimately it is something akin to adoption: It's every family's decision, and every child's feelings should be taken into account. Personally, I would've loved to have three biological parents when I was growing up -- one more person to howl, "YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND ME" at. 

It's natural to want to know where you come from and to know the people whose genes helped make you. As more experimental genetic fertility treatments are explored and the children born of them reach their teenage years, we're going to be hearing a lot more about how their conception and rearing impacted their development. In fact, that's what MTV's new show Generation Cryo (a woman seeking to find the sperm donor who is her father) is all about. Alana seems well-adjusted and is no doubt very well-loved. I'm sure her parents will be able to answer any of her questions in the open manner they've answered questions about their decision to try this method of conception. 

What do you think of this procedure, should it be legalized in the US?


Image via YouTube

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