Wednesday, September 28, 2016

This Child Does Have 3 Genetic Parents

Some genetic disorders have their origins in mitochondrial DNA, which is outside the nucleus of an fertilized ovum. Mothers can pass these disorders onto their children. Some affected women therefore screen their embryos before implanting them.  Or they can rely on donor ova from other women who are not affected with the disorders. Any child they have this way will be the child of another woman, genetically speaking.

Researchers now offer another option:  take the nucleus out of that affected zygote and transfer into an unaffected zygote. The mitochondrial DNA will be that of the donor of the ovum, while the rest of the DNA (which is the vast majority of it) will belong to the woman herself. This embryo is then implanted into the woman. Together with the DNA from the genetic father, the resulting child will have 3 parents genetically speaking.

Children already have numerous parents -- socially speaking -- depending on who gives birth to them, who adopts them, who raises them, who move from one step parent to another. Against this background, having three (genetic) parents is not terribly dramatic in itself.

However, the key question here is whether the technique can be routinely safe and effective. If the nuclear transplantation involved here would only exchange one set of risks (from the mitrochondrial DNA) for another (any disorders attached to the procedure), it is hard to see that it would be advantageous.  If the procedure can help protect against unwanted diseases and disorders in children and is no more risky than having a child ordinarily is, then I don't think it's worth too much worry from a moral point of view.

Sure, there will be a variety of legal and social questions to answer, for example, whether the ovum donor has any potential claim on the child.  But these kinds of questions already arise as men and women give birth to children outside marriage, as they change spouses, as they abandon their children, and so on. If multiple parenthood in this context can be sorted out, I see no reason to use the potential questions about nuclear transplantation as reasons never to do it.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

2 Dads, 1 Surrogate, 1 Pregnancy, 3 Children

In August 2016, a gestational surrogate gave birth to triplets, on behalf of a gay couple in South Africa.

Some news reports indicated that the children shared genetics with both parents, and that's not exactly right.

In this case, each man's sperm was used to inseminate one ovum, and those ova were transferred into the body of the surrogate. One conception resulted in twins, hence the three children.

So, one pregnancy resulted in children having a genetic relation to one of their fathers, not both. This kind of outcome is not exactly novel because same-sex couples can have this kind of relationship to their children, but usually through serial pregnancies, not the same one. 

Either so, the fathers are apparently happy with the outcome.


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Doc charged, following unethical practices in sperm donation

Sometimes, even doctors want to take short cuts.

One way to secure sperm for use in fertility medicine is to recruit donors, screen them, screen their samples.  A physician may do this in his/her own practice or rely on clinics that do this for them.

Another way to secure sperm for use in fertility medicine is to to masturbate (men only!) into a cup and pretend that you have taken the steps above.  That's apparently what this physician did, numerous times.  So, now there are lots and lots of half-siblings running around, where normally there should be only a few.  Want to bet that he also charged his clients same as if he had secured sperm in the accepted way?

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Straight Sister and Gay Brother to be Parents

An Australian woman plans to help her brother and his partner have a child. She will donate ova, the partner will contribute his sperm, and the child is to be gestated by a surrogate. This way, both the brother and the partner will have a genetic relationship to the child. Currently, all same-sex couples must reach outside their relationships in order to have children, by donor gametes or adoption.

In this instance, the brother will have a relation to his child as a genetic uncle, while his partner will be the genetic father. Both of them will be social fathers to the child.

Here are the details:

Friday, February 26, 2016

First Uterus Transplant in the United States

Not to be left too far behind by the successes at the University of Gotheberg, clinicians here in the United States have carried out the first uterus transplantation.  In this case, the uterus of a deceased woman was used.

This newly developing practice will, of course, bring with it questions of how to allocate uteruses relative to the demand, not to mention thresholds of eligibility.  I don't see, however, any moral obstacle to these kinds of interventions.  One might even justify them on the grounds of that most bioconservative view of all:  Natural Law.  Clinicians are simply trying to restore a function lost to disease, disorder, or accident. 

For more on the United States venture, see:

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Justice Antonin Scalia: No Friend to Gay and Lesbian Parents

Associate Justice Antonin Scalia of the Supreme Court died today. He was no friend to gay and lesbian parents.

During 2013 oral arguments in Hollingsworth v. Perry, Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia raised the question of harm to children as part of his skepticism about same-sex marriage.

He said: “If you redefine marriage to include same-sex couples, you must – you must permit adoption by same-sex couples, and there’s – there’s considerable disagreement among – among sociologists as to what the consequences of – what the consequences [are] of raising a child in a – in a single-sex family: whether that is harmful to the child or not. Some States do not permit adoption by same-sex couples for that reason. . . . That’s a possible deleterious effect, isn’t it? (See: Dennis Hollingsworth et al., v. Kristin M. Perry et al. No. 12-144. Oral Hearings, page 17, lines 6-13. At:

This Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court felt free to raise the specter of harm to children as the basis for throwing same-sex marriage into doubt, or at least he invited defenders of the ban against same-sex marriage to do so. 

In fact, one of the attorneys hoping to uphold the ban on same-sex marriage in California explicitly said that same-sex and opposite-sex couples are not similarly situated with respect to “responsible procreation.”

In response to this challenge to same-sex marriage, Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy also raised the question of harm to children, but in an entirely different light. He asked how the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage should not itself be understood as an injury to their children. 

Justice Kennedy knew better than to rise to Justice Scalia’s bait.  The welfare of children depends far more on the social status of their parents than on their sexual orientation. When it comes to understanding the meaning of the law for families, Mr. Associate Justice Scalia was on the wrong side of history.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Attention Same-Sex Couples: Margaret Somerville Feels Your Pain, but Don’t Expect an Apology Anytime Soon

By her own words, law professor Margaret Somerville feels the hurt gay and lesbian people experience when they encounter her view that the law should exclude same-sex couples from marriage.  Really, she does, or at least that’s what she says in her new book, Bird on an Ethics Wire. But don’t expect any apologies soon.

Somerville has long defended the view that the law should exclude same-sex couples from marriage, and this book doesn’t back down from that view. Far from it:  Somerville presents herself as speaking on behalf of Nature itself, on behalf of all children whose well-being is overlooked in the rush to  have children any old which way.

Somerville interprets marriage as having symbolic dimensions important in the “sexual ecology” of the “transmission of life.” Same-sex couples can’t – without other’s gametes – transmit life that way, and even if they could, they run into another problem: two men or two women cannot themselves offer a mother and father to children as they raise them.

Somerville goes so far as to maintain that children have the right not to be born to under these circumstances. Better that children should not exist at all than to be born to same-sex couples, maybe especially married same-sex couples.

Somerville offers a fig leaf of legal cover to same-sex relationships by endorsing the consolation prize of civil unions. But those unions are distinct from marriage and should not, as a matter of ethics or law, entitle couples to children. Children belong – so far as possible – in the moral and psychological confines of marriage.  Somerville calls on the law to exclude same-sex couples from marriage and thus to exclude those couples from the right to found a family as a privilege of the marital state. 

Somerville says that she recognizes that her “opposition to same-sex marriage has hurt some people who support it.”  “I genuinely regret the hurt it inflicts.” Rather than revise her views in order to avoid that hurt, she simply stands on her views and advocates “for children’s human rights” with “moral regret.” 

But all is not lost, as she sees it. The door is open for same-sex couples to adopt.  What’s the difference? Gay and lesbian couples don’t bring those children into existence, but they can help take care of children when no one else will, when all else fails. Second-class children are entitled to second-class parents, evidently. 

So, there you have it: Margaret Somerville can live with the hurt her views inflict on same-sex couples looking to have children and/or marry. I suspect, for their part, that same-sex couples can also live with the hurt they inflict on her when they marry and/or have children, as more and more of them do in more and more places around the world and do so under color of law. So sorry, Margaret. We feel your pain. Really.