Monday, February 3, 2014

Synthetic Gametes: Sperm from Women, Ova from Men.

Researchers have successfully created ova from male laboratory animals and sperm from female laboratory animals.  These synthetic gametes have been used to create live offspring, making male mice the mothers of the pups and female mice their fathers. 

From the first signs of success in this venture, researchers and commentators have speculated that what’s possible for laboratory mammals could be possible for human mammals as well. Some research has gone forward on this front, namely deriving male gametes from cells derived from females and deriving female gametes from males. It does appear that this prospect may be more difficult for humans than it was for mice. 

Some commentators have nevertheless speculated that this technology could be used by same-sex couples who wish to have children genetically related to them both, without relying on a third party for ova or sperm.  

Almost predictably  – given the history of medicine’s treatment of homosexuality  – some commentators rushed to proclaim the need for careful study of this use of synthetic gametes and possibly regulate it as well, in the name of protecting children.

In a recent analysis, I document the challenges in bioethics to the idea that two men or two women are fit to be parents, first of all, and that synthetic gametes raise a level of concern for same-sex couples that they do not raise for others. Opposite-sex couples turning to synthetic gametes to overcome their infertility? Well, that idea is embraced with open arms. Same-sex couples? Well, some commentators think this raises red flags all over the place.

(If you don’t have access to the site, email me, and I’ll get a copy of it to you.)

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