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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Conception of Children: 60 Years from Now


What will the world look like 70 years from now?  Stanford professor Hank Greely has this to say about the conception of children:

“Human reproduction will be much more selective.  Most children, except for the poorest inhabitants of the poorest nations, will be conceived through in vitro fertilization so that pre-implantation genetic diagnosis can be used to select the genetic traits of the next generation.  The key development here will be making human eggs from induced pluripotent stem cells, freeing IVF from the unpleasant, expensive, and risky process of egg retrieval.”

Since most people seem to believe that a better future involves having more and more control over the traits of children, I have no doubt that people will turn to assisted reproductive treatments in order to pave the way to better human lives.  Will most people turn to those options?  Maybe, but I suspect a good chunk of people will not, especially if the more than one billion Catholics in the world hew to their church’s teachings against those options. Countercultural types may also want to opt out of a planned reproductive economy too, especially since in vivo conception is a lot cheaper than all other alternatives.  In any case, the costs of IVF are going to function as a barrier for more people than just the poorest inhabitants of the poorest nations, and some people will want to opt out of that approach to conception for reasons of their own.  

What’s most interesting in this prediction – which Greeley acknowledges as fallible – is that he foresees a way in which women will not have to bear the burdens of egg donation in order to make in vitro fertilization work.  In the future, he expects ova will be manufactured at will from induced pluripotent stem cells.  Some of those stem cells will originally require ova from women, of course, but another options may come along too.  Some researchers have derived mammalian sperm and ova from somatic cells:  no original gametes are required.  Any man or any women might someday be the source of gametes.  That would certainly lift the burden of egg donation from women.  But it also upends the idea that only men can be fathers and that only women can be mothers.  That’s a more revolutionary future than one in which IVF is used routinely.

See other Greely predictions at:  http://www.councilforresponsiblegenetics.org/GeneWatch/GeneWatchPage.aspx?pageId=403

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