The Miracle of Molly

In the Fall of 2000, Denver’s Lisa and Jack Nash genetically engineered a baby in an effort to save their dying little girl. Pastors and pundits said it was the first step down a stem-cell-paved road to Hell. Five years later, the Nashes give us an exclusive look at Heaven.

August 2005

Experimental Science

Six potted plants are lined up on a school desk. Three of the plants are struggling to hang on, two are definite goners, and one is downright leafy. It's Jan. 27, 2005, Science Fair night at Belleview Elementary School, and 10-year-old Molly is showing off her entry to her mom and dad. She pushes aside a strand of brown hair with one of her four-fingered hands. Her "special" arm hangs by her side, curved like a hockey stick where it ends a few inches below the elbow. On her wrist is a half-moon-shaped scar—a mark left by a recent, marginally successful attempt to stretch and straighten the bone.

Molly is waist-high, elfin, and compact. She moves as if her muscles have been starched and often leans a bit to the right to compensate for her deaf left ear. Her gluey complexion is fixed with a happy grin, and her squinty brown eyes convey a warm sincerity. She gestures toward the table with her good arm and explains that she fed each plant a different diet—water, fertilizer and water, vinegar, cola, Pepto-Bismol, or chicken soup—and charted each plant's health.

For every other kid in the room, the science experiment probably amounts to just another classroom activity, but for the Nashes the project is a reminder of Molly's own fight for life and the controversial cutting-edge medicine that saved her. Five years ago, Molly and her mom underwent a series of experimental and excruciating procedures; for the first time in history doctors blended the sciences of in vitro fertilization (IVF), stem cells, and genetic screening—which thrust the Nashes into the spotlight of international news. They were covered, and in many cases condemned, in media ranging from The New York Times to the BBC. And Molly came to personify the ongoing medical, ethical, religious, and political debates over genetic testing, "designer babies," and embryonic research.