Bioethics Discussion Blog: A Developing Reproductive Technique: Eggs from Sperm and Sperm from Eggs: Should This Technique be Available to Homosexual Partners?

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Friday, November 14, 2008

A Developing Reproductive Technique: Eggs from Sperm and Sperm from Eggs: Should This Technique be Available to Homosexual Partners?


John Howard posted a comment on the thread “Ethical Analysis:Sperm and the Pregnant Dead vs The Politics of Healthcare“
But offered a new topic for discussion as he wrote the following:


I wonder if you'd be interested in discussing the ethical issue I've been obsessed with for years now: same-sex conception, using genetically modified gametes. I see this as being the core question of the marriage debate, and think that we should be considering it right now while we debate gay marriage. If we decide to allow same-sex conception (attempting to create genetic offspring from same-sex couples), then we should allow same-sex marriage, if we don't, then we shouldn't, so that marriages continue to protect the right to conceive together with the marriage's own genes.


To get deeper into the ethics of a new potential for fertilization: creating sperm from a woman’s ovaries and creating eggs from a man’s sperm and it’s implications, I found the following in the February 2 2008 issue of NewScientist discussing the matter, particularly noting that there is an amendment pending to the British law governing fertility clinics regarding permission for invitro fertilization with sperm and cells grown in the lab. However the amendment, if passed, “excludes the use of female sperm and male eggs, outlawing same-sex reproduction and discriminating against gays and lesbians.”

The ethical issue is whether it is just for there to be discrimination in the application of this developing technique, if safe, to homosexual couples? The issue is that simple.. or is it? ..Maurice.

Graphic: Visual by PDImages.com

7 Comments:

At Saturday, November 15, 2008 12:55:00 PM, Blogger John Howard said...

Thanks for starting this discussion Maurice. I regret introducing marriage into the discussion right off the bat, and hope people are not distracted or tainted by their views on same-sex marriage rights in this discussion.

Let me start fresh by raising the distinction between medicine and transhumanism/enhancement. Clearly there is a difference between restoring someone's ability to reproduce as they would if they were healthy and giving people the ability to do something that no healthy human (mammal?) has ever been able to do before.

And there is also a clear difference in that creating 'replacement' sperm for a man would not change the genes, it would theoretically be impossible to tell a replacement sperm from a natural sperm. But creating a "female sperm" would change the genes by reprogramming the epigenetic imprinting from female to male, resulting in a gamete that (even aside from being a sperm cell and not an egg cell) would be very different genetically from the woman's natural genes. Thus we are moving into genetic engineering territory. And once we say it's OK to engineer changes into the genome, then we say it is OK to do other enhancements and modifications. So the question is not just "allow same-sex reproduction or keep procreation male-female?", but "allow genetic engineering or keep procreation male-female?"

 
At Sunday, November 16, 2008 1:51:00 AM, Blogger Stefan said...

I agree with John, the biggest ethic issue isn't the gay-thing. My opinion 'bout that is that it should be legal anyway. Probibly cause I live in the Netherlands, where it is already legal for a long time.
But the genetic engineering issue is interesting. I think it should be allowed, but I'm not sure yet. Normally I'm always pro genetic engineering, but in this case it isn't for medical reasons.
So that is an interesting question, on which I should think about more..

 
At Monday, November 17, 2008 7:44:00 AM, Anonymous Alan said...

The Hinxton Group released a consensus statement on April 11, 2008 on the Science, Ethics and Policy Challenges of Pluripotent Stem Cell-Derived Gametes. One point raised by the scientists at the table was that the scientific hurdles (beyond the hurdles of being able to reliably create germ cells from stem cells) for creating eggs from XY cells will be VERY large and the hurdles for creating sperm from XX cells even larger. More information is available at our website http://www.hinxtongroup.org/au_pscdg_cs.html

 
At Monday, November 17, 2008 9:08:00 AM, Blogger Maurice Bernstein, M.D. said...

Alan, thanks for providing us with the URL to a resource to help us all understand what is involved in the creation of sperm and ova from other cells. ..Maurice.

 
At Monday, November 17, 2008 3:57:00 PM, Blogger John Howard said...

Thanks Alan. Some questions are raised by that statement for me. One, what is the relevance of how difficult it is considered to be? Also, what is meant by the recommendation to not use "moral" considerations in deciding presumably whether or not to ban the use of PSC derived gametes? Would my "medicine/transhumanism" distinction be dismissed because it is a "moral" consideration, for example?

 
At Thursday, December 04, 2008 5:53:00 PM, Blogger Jane Know said...

Interesting discussion. I think practicality and real-world effects often get lost in debates about same-sex marriage, which are often usually only based on knee-jerk reactions for or against it.

I wonder exactly how genetically different the gamete would be from a female sperm, as compared to one that would have been produced from a female egg. (And likewise, a male egg as compared to a male sperm). Is there an exact answer to this, or is it speculation? I'm going to do some reading.

 
At Friday, December 05, 2008 6:40:00 AM, Blogger Chairm said...

John Howard said:

So the question is not just "allow same-sex reproduction or keep procreation male-female?", but "allow genetic engineering or keep procreation male-female?"

There is a very important disctinction that is not fully clarified with terms like, same-sex procreation, or, same-sex reproduction, or even, genetic engineering.

What John is talking about is the manufacture of human beings. This is not procreation, but manufacture.

 

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