Technological breakthroughs could change concept of parenting
An amazing new discovery made by a group of scientists from the Kyoto University Institute for Integrated Cell-Material Sciences (iCeMS) has brought, to my mind, far more questions than it has answers.
Stunning as it may seem, new research indicates the possibility of creating human reproductive cells, be they eggs or sperm, from the stem cell tissue of living donors. This allows for future lesbian couples to have and raise their own children without the aid of donated sperm, which, is important to note, would not contain either of their DNA.
Gay couples would be able to do the same, with an egg manufactured from stem cells from one of their own bodies. Anyone at all with reproductive difficulties will be able to have healthy children containing their own genetic code. This goes a step, or perhaps many steps, further than in vitro fertilization: in this technique, naturally formed eggs and sperm are combined in a laboratory in an attempt to produce a viable fetus which is then implanted in either the mother or the surrogate’s womb.
At first look, I found this research to be exciting and I marvel at its implications. My problem is that not all of the implications are as positive as the others.
Being able to make responsible, loving, childless couples into parents is a wonderful thing, if that is what these couples wish. However, once we start tampering with ourselves on this level, where does one draw the line?
As science continues its attempts at unlocking the human genome and we become closer to understanding what portions of our DNA are responsible for which traits and behaviors we exhibit, the possibility of eliminating cancer and heart disease begins to shine on the horizon.
For the not-so-idealistic among us, this sounds frighteningly like the future Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” predicted: a future where those of us who can afford it genetically engineer perfect children who become the new elite, and those of us who are born the old-fashioned way and contain basic human flaws become the serfs, the untouchables, the rabble.
This is ironic because the human race has gotten as far as we have based in large part (at one time) on the process of natural selection. This process has been virtually defeated by humans.
We do whatever we can to assist the reproductively challenged in their quest to procreate, so nature has if not no power, then certainly a greatly diminished power in deciding who will and who will not have children. This causes negative traits to continue to be passed down, generation after generation.
I’m not suggesting that humans should be considered exactly like the animals of lower orders that we study; obviously our contributions are not limited purely to physical strength and ability to reproduce. Many people born through the aid of science have gone on to be remarkably valuable to the human race.
Far be it from me to tell someone that if they can’t have kids maybe they shouldn’t; I myself was born after my mother underwent several surgeries in an attempt to have a child with my father. That said, they did eventually manage it without having to create any portion of me in a laboratory, and I turned out all right. I only suggest that it’s important to realize that we’ve already begun mucking about with nature on a very significant level — and it looks like we aren’t even close to done.
In “Gattaca,” a feature film with similar themes, these people who are born without the aid of genetic manipulation are referred to as “God-children.” I’ve always liked that term, despite being the proud atheist I am.
I wonder for the faithful among us though, what does this research say about the existence, or lack thereof, of the human soul? If life can be completely created in a laboratory, where, then, is that divine spark of life? Given these questions, I don’t suppose the religious community will be in favor of continuing this research or attempting to replicate it among humans. But, what if they are? Those social implications are fascinating.
Perhaps its because I have been living in a culture that so radically prefers opposite-sex to same-sex unions my entire life: I can’t say. For whatever reason, though, the pessimist in me predicts that even if this new science, as it applies to infertile heterosexual couples, gains substantial support, the idea of two men or two women “creating” a child in this way will remain unpalatable to the public at large. Of course, the only reasoning behind this would have to be that it goes against God’s plan.
Whether something is “natural” or not will no longer be applicable at that point, whether it’s the child who is the product of a relationship or the relationship itself. It sounds invalid, though, to suggest that an infertile couple choosing to intervene and create their own child were doing so according to God’s plan, regardless of their respective sex. So, with no God argument or nature argument, what have we got left?
The thing I love about science is that as it progresses, in addition to highlighting what makes all of us interesting and unique, more than anything else it serves to point out how similar we all are. We’re all made of the same things, working essentially toward the same goals.
The only problem I have ever had with science is its speed. The ethical and moral questions regarding this research far outweigh the supposed benefits, at this time. What is called for at this juncture is introspection, discussion and a lot of patience.