January 31, 2008

"Sperm cells created from female embryo."

The Telegraph reports, adding that "it may be possible for lesbian couples to have their own biological children."

Or any 2 women. They don't have to be lesbians.

It's just that we — some of us! — feel sympathetic to the desire of a lesbian couple to have a child that is biologically related to both of them.

But any 2 women could have a baby together — once the technology advances so that sperm cells could be made from a woman's bone marrow.

And face it: A woman could be impregnated with her own sperm.

But right now, at this stage of the technology, a female embryo is being destroyed to create a sperm cell. One doctor calls this procedure "double-damned," but — what did you think? — he (she?) doesn't mean that it will provoke God:
... Dr Robin Lovell-Badge, a stem cell and sex determination expert at the National Institute for Medical Research, Mill Hill, London, doubts it will work: “The presence of two X chromosomes is incompatible with this. Moreover they need genes from the Y chromosome to go through meiosis. So they are at least double-damned.”

In Brazil, a team led by Dr Irina Kerkis of the Butantan Institute in SaƵ Paulo claims to have made both sperm and eggs from cultures of male mouse embryonic stem cells in the journal Cloning and Stem Cells.

The researchers have not yet shown that their male eggs can be fertilised to produce viable offspring, but they are thinking about possibilities for same-sex human reproduction.

If all these experiments pan out, then the stage would also be set for a gay man to donate skin cells that could be used to make eggs, which could then be fertilised by his partner’s sperm and placed into the uterus of a surrogate mother.

“I think it is possible,” says Kerkis, “but I don’t know how people will look at this ethically.”
I don’t know how people will look at this ethically. You might want to think about it. You know, yourself. Whether it actually is ethical. It's not just a matter of how "people" "look at" it.

53 comments:

Roger said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Roger said...

And we thought Aldous Huxley was out on the fringe in brave new world. The ethical implications are fascinating. This should keep bioethecists busy for years to come. There also appear to be a significant genetic/medical issues--would not any genetic difficulties will be passed along in this process? I will defer to those more learned in genetics on the last point.

rhhardin said...

How does the paternity suit work then?

Zeb Quinn said...

It's just that we — some of us! — feel sympathetic to the desire of a lesbian couple to have a child that is biologically related to both of them.

Maybe in your parallel universe, but not in mine. Leastways, not the normal folks.

rhhardin said...

Occasionally you're required to attend an ethics seminar.

Always raise your hand and ask if it's ever okay to tell a lie.

What are experts for?

Smilin' Jack said...

You have to admire the courage and vision of these researchers, who aren't going to waste their time curing disease, improving health, and the other frivolous nonsense their fuddy-duddy colleagues regard as important. No, they've identified the real problems facing the world today: too much wealth and not enough people. And by developing a really expensive way to produce even more children, they'll solve them both!

Bissage said...

This scientific breakthrough is way hostile to the cause of same-sex marriage! Now who are we going to get to adopt all those excess babies?

P. Rich said...

Thanks for the opportunity to again point out that a homosexual couple cannot possibly rear what for the past 250,000 years or so would be regarded as a "normal" child, especially if the child is other-gender. Early conditioning in this household setting will produce later aberrance, guaranteed. Funny how "It's about the children." disappears in certain contexts, isn't it.

As for ethics, they're just another set of rules which are irrelevant if a feminist lesbian (hope that's not too redundant) says they are. The same can be said for traditional views on "aberrant". That's how their illogic system operates to create a little bubble of self-defined normalcy. Liberals are left to stand around on the outside doing the drooling sympathy bit.

Hoosier Daddy said...

Well before the ladies start saying that they don't need us men anymore remember you still need someone to open mayonaise jars and change your tires.

Roger said...

and take out the garbage.

dbp said...

The ethics of destroying an actual embryo in order to produce germ cells will be clear to most people.

Two women could only produce girls though. Women only have X chromosomes and so could not produce a male child since a Y chromosome can only come from a male.

EnigmatiCore said...

I dunno. I think if God gave us the smarts to figure out how to create life, then God basically is using us as his instrument to create life for him.

It doesn't work in the other direction, though. Just because God gave us the smarts to destroy life, doesn't mean we are doing his work when we do. He also gave us some commandments, including "thou shalt not murder."

I don't think we are being unethical when we clone or do other things that give people the willies about ethics in this way. Only when we clone to kill and harvest does it get into the muck.

dbp said...

I once worked with a woman who legally adopted the son her partner had via artificial insemination. It turned out that the time and legal costs were very high, although it all worked-out in the end.

I thought of a lower-cost solution at the time: Do in-vitro fertilization using Woman A's egg and then implant into Woman B. The birth mother is automatically a parent (mom) and then they do a paternity test on the baby showing it is "fathered by Woman A. She becomes effectivly and legally the father.

Not a lawyer, so not sure if it would all work. In any case, had the coworker and her partner just stayed in Mass. about a year longer, they could have just gotten married and saved a lot of legal fees.

Kurt said...

Maureen Dowd must have known about this when she wrote Are Men Necessary?

SteveR said...

Given all the other research that could be done, this seems like a very unimportant subject. So my ethical problem starts and stops there. I am at a stage in life where considering hypotheticals takes energy I don't have. Maybe someday.

Pogo said...

I don’t know how people will look at this ethically.

The banality of evil, here expressed as the idea that the application of technology is amoral because it involves moving bits of DNA around like so many blocks of wood, errantly thinking that the lab bench makes one far removed from ever having to think about noses, eyes, chronic disease, emotions, beliefs, consequences, right, and wrong.



"I just built a device that allows me to make people do whatever I tell them to do. I don’t know how people will look at this ethically.

Oh, well, I'm sure I'll come up with something"

Balfegor said...

Not a lawyer, so not sure if it would all work. In any case, had the coworker and her partner just stayed in Mass. about a year longer, they could have just gotten married and saved a lot of legal fees.

Yes . . . I kind of suspect this particular procedure is going to be ridiculously expensive for the near future, if it's legal at all. Possibly more expensive than the legal fees. That might work in ten or twenty years, though, if this proves safe and reliable, and the terrible power of the American Federal government lets it through the gauntlet of safety tests to which it subjects any new procedure that's going to be applied to humans.

EnigmatiCore said...

"I just built a device that allows me to make people do whatever I tell them to do. I don’t know how people will look at this ethically.

Oh, well, I'm sure I'll come up with something"


"I just built a device that allows the operator to 'shoot' someone with a 'bullet'. I don't know how people will look at this ethically.

Oh, well, I'm sure they'll come up with something."

It isn't the tool or the technology that is the problem for ethics. It is how the tool is used. For my example, a gun is a very good thing if you are needing to defend your family. It is not a very good thing if you are desiring to murder.

Hoosier Daddy said...

and take out the garbage.

Yeah, good point Roger. Hey, if they don't need us around anymore, they won't be able to blame all their problems on us.

Gentlemen, this may be the breakthrough we have been waiting for....

Meade said...

Madam, I'm Adam

Eve damned Eden. Mad Eve.

Name none man.

Mom's Dad & Dad's Mom!?!

rhhardin said...

Ma is a nun as I am.

Susan said...

And face it: A woman could be impregnated with her own sperm.

Wow. The modern narcissist's ultimate dream.

Zeb Quinn said...

What women want. Freud had it right after all.

Pogo said...

It isn't the tool or the technology that is the problem for ethics. It is how the tool is used.

You missed something.
Here the implementation of the science, and being unaware one has already made an ethical decision on how the tool is to be used, but disclaiming any knowledge of it, as if one is a passive recipient. (I did what I was told)


Here, the technology is used precisely to perform an activty that may be inherently evil (else why the initial discomfort?).

dbp said...

"Not a lawyer, so not sure if it would all work. In any case, had the coworker and her partner just stayed in Mass. about a year longer, they could have just gotten married and saved a lot of legal fees.

Yes . . . I kind of suspect this particular procedure is going to be ridiculously expensive for the near future, if it's legal at all. Possibly more expensive than the legal fees. That might work in ten or twenty years, though, if this proves safe and reliable, and the terrible power of the American Federal government lets it through the gauntlet of safety tests to which it subjects any new procedure that's going to be applied to humans."

I should have been more clear: As a biologist, there should be no problems beyond the usual as far as IVF goes. My doubts were all about how legal it would be for a woman to claim paternaty given proof that she was a parent of a child that she did not gestate.

Roger said...

This development really changes the implications of masturbation it seems to me.

dbp said...

Pogo is right. The firearm example only makes sense if one were considering manufacture of a weapon out of embryo parts.

It really doesn't matter how it is used: One must perform evil acts just to make such a thing.

Meade said...

I want a girl
just like the girl
that married dear old Mom.
She was a pearl
and the only girl
that Mother ever had,
A good old-fashioned girl with bone marrow so true,
One who loves nobody else but you
I want a girl
just like the girl
that married dear old Mom.

Steven said...

Note that they've already managed to do a man's-marrow-into-sperm trick, so men who have lost their testicles to accident or disease can become biological fathers.

EnigmatiCore said...

I have this theory. People are inherently evil, but can choose to act good. It is a conscious choice to not give in to our base impulses.

Implied in this is that we know, in our hearts, what is inherently evil. We can play dumb, but by and large deep down inside we know right from wrong.

I am not playing dumb here. I do not see the 'inherent evil' in what is being described, in the abstract. That makes me think it is probably not inherently evil, but rather that you have decided that it is evil. I guess, to me, that is the difference between something one considers evil and something that is inherently evil.

Pogo said...

I do not see the 'inherent evil' in what is being described, in the abstract.

Your ability to detect evil is so accurate it precludes error?

I forget when we declared you the gold standard of the degrees of evil. Was it 1992 or earlier?

Revenant said...

A woman could be impregnated with her own sperm.

That would be a horrible idea. You know how sibling incest and parent-child incest carries a high risk of defects from recessive genes? Well, impregnating yourself would *quadruple* that risk.

On the other hand, the idea of two (unrelated) women having a biological child together sounds great to me. It would be a great boon to lesbian families.

JohnAnnArbor said...

What Revenant said. An absolute genetic disaster waiting to happen. Imagine the number of hemophiliacs--all girls this time, not boys--if Queen Victoria had done this.

Synova said...

"...would make the method more practical than with embryonic cells."

And embryonic stem cells finally manage to *do* something and no sooner than they do the "more practical" method shunts them aside.

Heh.

EnigmaticCore seems to be channeling me today.

Destroying a female embryo to make a sperm cell bothers me a lot.

Making sperm cells out of bone marrow, either for men or women, for IVF doesn't bother me much at all. So two women can have a baby? That's nice.

Meade said...

rhhardin said...
"Ma is a nun as I am."

ah ha

Synova said...

Social impact seems positive, too, compared to other various "alternative" reproductive options.

Being able to make sperm for a man with a testicle accident seems like a good thing. And being able to make sperm so two women can have a child seems like a good thing. If the alternative is a sperm donor.

Sure, sperm donation is low tech... as low as possible in some situations if the "donation" is done in person... but it's really not good for children not to know who their progenitors are. They don't just loose a parent, they lose cousins and uncles and grandparents and their whole history. Not that this bothers every child or adult who doesn't know where they came from but it does bother quite a few adopted children rather a lot and I've read that children of anonymous sperm donors feel the same sort of need to know where they came from. Plus medical histories are lost.

Even a clone child would have all of that information. They wouldn't be denied any of their ancestors or history. (And no, they wouldn't have half-histories any more than your twin has only half of his or her history.)

Sperm donation doesn't have to be anonymous but women I know who've gone the non-anonymous route ended up with far more than a child... sort of like going through a messy divorce, fear that the "in-laws" will disappear with the kid and everything.

Having two mothers *for real* might not be ideal, but how many families are ideal?

Does it really matter how you get here?

dbp said...

"Does it really matter how you get here?"

Simple answer: Yes, very much so.

If one could make a zygote out of two ova, then that is not in itself problematic. If you have to create an embryo, then kill it in order to make an artificial sperm, then I have a problem with that and I don't think I am alone.

It happens at an early stage of development but is this much different from organ harvesting from live and unwilling donars?

Revenant said...

It happens at an early stage of development but is this much different from organ harvesting from live and unwilling donars?

A key difference would be that an early-stage embryo hasn't got any "will" to be "unwilling" about. It is living, in the sense that any group of cells is living, but it hasn't got a mind yet.

Killing a living but mindless creature (which would have eventually developed a mind) in order to create a new living creature which will eventually develop a mind seems like pretty much a wash. You're just trading one potential mind for another; you aren't destroying a mind that already existed, or violating the will of one.

dbp said...

So, if conservation of minds is the criteria: Would it be okay to harvest organs from it if the result was extending the life of 5 old people by 15 years each?

Revenant said...

It isn't conservation of minds, dbp. It is conservation of potential minds. There's no mind to conserve. There's just potential for one.

In your example, an existing mind is being destroyed in order to give multiple minds a longer lifespan. That's an entirely different moral question, unless you consider potential existence to be the same as actual existence.

EnigmatiCore said...

"Your ability to detect evil is so accurate it precludes error?"

Of course not.

However, I believe that is what separates the evil from the inherently evil. That is the distinction I was making. Evil can hide. Things that are inherently evil, on the other hand, tend to stick out like sore thumbs.

Synova said...

dpb, I agree on the matter of creating embryos to destroy them. I was speaking more of the creative side of it. Human reproduction is a human act. I know, I've done it four times. ;-) Low-tech or High-tech doesn't seem like a very important distinction to me. (Though low-tech is far more fun.)

I do think that creating and destroying embryos is a moral issue that goes to how we view human life in general and how we value it or not.

In a sense it doesn't seem right to do something like call it a murder because, logically, an embryo is a proto-human and not a human. And arguments attempted from the other direction, that we ought prevent the deaths of embryos at all costs are ridiculous. (As they are meant to be.)

But I don't think that we can escape the fact that we're dealing with a living human organism and how we treat that organism does have a place on the continuum of what we value as human and what we don't. It's not the death that matters so much, as an incredible number of fertilized ova die naturally, but the purpose.

I think that a very simple "rule" would solve nearly all bio-ethical issues related to embryos, cloning, and reproduction... good faith. Don't create something to destroy it, but act in good faith. And if embryos don't implant or if a genetic flaw causes them to fail, then they fail, as many do and many will.

Destroying a female embryo to show how females can reproduce is rather grotesque.

(Rev, I'd go with brain activity as a dividing line for abortions for practicality's sake. Though I'm pretty sure those little brain cells start firing before most women know they're pregnant, so I don't expect pro-choice persons to agree.)

dbp said...

Synova,

Thanks for your reply, very thoughtful and persuasive.

Just a note: dbp, easy to remember just use a mnemonic device like say, dustless black pepper, for instance.

Beth said...

H.Daddy and Roger, your insight is uncanny! Have you been spying on me? Here in our lesbian household, we've been eating dry sandwiches for years. It's good for the waistline but I miss mayo. The garbage piling up and our tireless car up on blocks irritate the neighbors. What's a gay girl to do?

EnigmatiCore said...

Just around the corner from where I am currently sitting, there is a restaurant called "The Pink Taco."

Something caused me to have that pop into my head. The name cracks me up.

Roger said...

Beth: Find a nice guy who is willing to do the heavy lifting!

As an aside, and with respect to gay women: it was my privilege as a serving army officer to have several gay women under my command--they were outstanding soldiers and I always counselled them that the situation required them to be discreet. There were limits to the protection that I could provide as their commander. I knew they were gay and could have them discharged on my word alone. They understood, and it seemed to me to be a good solution for both the country they served and them personally. Of course, at the time it was against regulations--but sometimes we have to ignore regulations for the larger good. Our country's approach to homosexuals in the military is, quite frankly, stupid. I only wish I were in a position to make needed changes. Alas, I cannot.

montana urban legend said...

Careful with your glee over the self-fertilization ideal. It's the ultimate extreme of inbreeding. Seriously.

Biology is always (at least) one step ahead of the narcissists. People need to learn to love each other more.

It seems that reducing ourselves to biological entities is at play on both the left (men and sexual reproduction are an inconvenience at best, detritus at worst) and the right (a zygote is a person). Not good.

Keep pushing adoption for gays, at least until such time as we regress into the kind of primitive, asexual unicellular organisms that both right and left seem obsessed with viewing this species as. Until we've stripped ourselves of every last vestige of our humanity we might as well try to be humane.

Synova said...

I don't think it was glee. I think it was noting the possibility.

Beth said...

Roger, I hope more officers with your experience and judgment make their way into those positions. If lawmakers and the administration decide to change our policy, it will take people like you to make it work.

John Howard said...

You might want to think about it. You know, yourself. Whether it actually is ethical. It's not just a matter of how "people" "look at" it.

I think he meant "people" as in society, like whether society will decide to allow it or not. That's not up to him, he's just a researcher.

I couldn't deduce your position on it Ann, do you think it is ethical or not? It seems many people here think it will be a good thing for same-sex couples, at least better than sperm donation, In my opinion sperm donation is better because there is less risk and cost. In my opinion, we shoudl have a law like Missouri's that prohibits all implantation of embryos that weren't created by fertilization of an egg of a human female by sperm of a human male.

And hey - how come no mention of what this might have to do with marriage. Can we prohibit a couple from doing it if they are married? If we can, does that mean we can prohibit any marriage from conceiving, and woudn't that radically change marriage?

I've been pushing for civil unions defined as exactly like marriage but not giving the right to conceive together, so that marriage can continue to protect the right to conceive together. I think this distinction would allow us to make great progress on federal recognition and civil unions in all 50 states.

montana urban legend said...

Synova, if it's not glee, then what sentiment best describes an interest in placing the "possibility" in bold face and prefacing it with "face it"? Face what? Who is it that's not facing something? It's redundant to say it's a possibility. Of course it's a possibility. Any future technology represents a possibility. In this case the "possibility" just happened to be one that, while an obviously extreme form of inbreeding, one that was expressed in a post that talks about how great it would be for women to revert to parthogenesis. To reproduce unaided. Or to reproduce sexually but absent sexual dimorphism for some reason. At some point we should accept that sexual reproduction evolved to advance biological evolution, even if the idle state of our cultural evolution is at odds with appreciating that fact.

Of course, I'm just assuming that the original post wasn't written in a neutral tone. So feel free to correct me if you think I've got something wrong on that score.

RobinM said...

But they're still trying to teach it to swim instead of arguing about which way to go....

RobinM said...
This comment has been removed by the author.