24 Mar, 14 | by BMJ
Guest Post by César Palacios-González, John Harris and Giuseppe Testa; for the full paper, click here.
Recent biotechnology breakthroughs suggest that functional human gametes could soon be created in vitro. While the ethical debate on the uses of in vitro generated gametes (IVG) was originally constrained by the fact that they could be derived only from embryonic stem cell lines, the advent of induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (hiPSC) creates the possibility that somatic cells may be used to generate gametes. This means that in the future it might be possible to generate human sperm and oocytes from male cells, and oocytes from female cells. (So far it has not been possible to derive sperm from female cells.)
Among the different applications that have been explored in the academic literature, like the creation of embryos for genetic research and what has been called “in vitro eugenics”, we think that the most dramatic application of IVG will be in the field of human reproduction. In a recent article in the Journal of Medical Ethics, Robert Sparrow rightly notices that IVG could allow post-puberty males who are unable to produce viable sperm, women who have undergone premature menopause, and those who have lost their gonads due to injury or had them removed in the course of cancer treatment to have genetically related kin. To this list we add (and explore in our paper) a fourth use that has been overlooked until now: that IVG would allow the reparation of some of the harms done to people by means of biological involuntary sterilization. more…