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Ethicists are very wary of in vitro gametogenesis


Friday, December 18, 2015, 10:14 AM

Someday, a baby like this might be produced with genes from more than two people.iStockPhoto

A long time from now, it may take a village to make a child — and the very thought is already horrifying medical ethicists.

Science has been making advances on a revolutionary technique that could create test-tube babies with more than two biological parents — and even though the results are years away, experts are sounding the alarm.

“The ethical dilemmas … will be enormously challenging,” George Washington University professor Sonia Suter wrote this week in the Journal of Law and the Biosciences.

Suter and other ethicists are concerned about a process called in vitro gametogenesis, which would extract DNA from many peoples’ cells and merge it with DNA from other cells to create an offspring with more than two parents.

“The combinations are endless,” wrote Suter. “One could imagine combinations of different numbers and sexes for ‘multiplex parenting,’ resulting in potentially different combinations of genetic relatedness.”

Same-sex couples could conceive their own biological children, as opposed to implanting a fertilized egg in a surrogate.

Or a single parent could make his or her own baby using only his or her own cells. Of course, only a woman would be able to carry the baby to term; a man would still need to find a surrogate mother. For now, at least.

The revolutionary technique is nowhere close to fruition, but researchers have reported some success in mice.

And here’s the problem: “IVG presents the possibility of ‘perfecting reproduction,’ by greatly improving the ability to screen for undesirable diseases or even traits,” Suter said.

That said, she also predicts that multiple parents could lead to a “positive outcome” for a child, since “the more adults who feel responsible for the child’s wellbeing, the better off the child is likely to be.”

And scientists could also figure out how to avoid passing on “bad” genes to offspring, which could eliminate disease.

But in the wrong hands, it could lead to eugenics.

“We have minimal knowledge about the implications … of erasing and resetting imprinting patterns to facilitate reproduction,” Suter said, adding that IVG should only be contemplated “when and if (humans) deem it sufficiently safe to do so.”


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