A recent article published in The New York Times (August 12, 2020), entitled The Poly-Parent Households Are Coming, discusses the current state-of-the-art in the production of babies and the technologies that are emerging to cater to new demands in this field. Thus far, IVF techniques were a means to resolve the inability of infertile couples to have a child. Now, a new demand has arisen: same-sex couples who want a genetic relationship with the resulting child. Researchers in IVF Clinics are working to serve this potentially vast market. We excerpt what we consider to be of more bioethical interest.
Sex separated from reproduction changed how people procreate and with whom
The article states that IVF techniques have a role in the fight for marriage equality (children of same-sex couples): “Urged by technology, therefore, we have already changed how we procreate and with whom. We have sex separated from reproduction and multiplied the various pairings that can together produce a child. And soon, a technology known as I.V.G. (in vitro gametogenesis) could push this process even further along. In theory, I.V.G. could allow individuals like our fictional Anna and Nicole to manufacture their own eggs and sperm, mixing and matching between genders and genes, and enabling more than two people to create a child together. And in the process, our basic notion of families is liable to be upended as well.” It then continues with a discussion on the feasibility of this technique: “I.V.G. has worked only in mice. And making the leap to humans will not be easy or straightforward. Human cells are more complicated, and researchers are understandably wary of ethical complexities. Under current U.S. law, such research might even be deemed illegal. But, with very few exceptions, recent history suggests that advances in reproductive technologies nearly always jump eventually from the animal world to humans.”
But another technique that is more advanced and thus closer to application in clinical practice is the mitochondrial replacement (read our special report HERE). When classic IVF procedures have failed or the patient cannot get pregnant with their own gametes, the three-parent baby technique is being proposed as common practice. This procedure has an objective bioethical problem – read our report.
Sex separated from reproduction: children produced in laboratories
The risk of these techniques is that both genetic modifications (parthenogenesis and mitochondrial replacement) could affect generations to come
The procedure, known as mitochondrial replacement therapy, is banned in the U.S. and many other countries because of concerns that the introduction of DNA from a third “parent” into an embryo is a form of genetic modification that could seriously affect generations to come.
Nuno Costa-Borges, scientific director and co-founder of Embryotools working in Greece, who leads the use of this technique, said in an interview that, “For some patients, it’s very hard to accept that they cannot get pregnant with their own [eggs]”. While donated eggs can significantly improve the chances of successful IVF in these patients, the resulting children are not genetically related to the intended mothers. “Spindle transfer may represent a new era in the IVF field, as it could give these patients chances of having a child genetically related to them”. (read HERE).
The Poly-parent revolution is the coming result of IVF advances and marketing initiatives
The aforementioned NYT article concluded that “If the revolution of I.V.F. was to liberate reproduction from sex, then the even bigger revolution of I.V.G. is to dismantle completely the reproductive structure of heterosexuality. Once upon a time, defenders of heterosexual marriage could argue that marriage was intrinsically a sexual union of husband and wife because those were the only unions that could produce a new life. If I.V.G. comes to pass, that will no longer be true. Instead, two men could make a baby or be part of it. Three or four sexually unconnected housemates could make a baby. And that changes everything we’ve ever known about sex and babies and marriage.”
The bioethical implications should also be studied to determine the best interests of the child produced, but another great problem to be resolved is what David Lemberg, an eminent bioethicist at California National University said in another article in the New York Times, “Attempting to apply what we’ve learned to create a human zygote is dangerous because we have no idea what we’re doing, we have no idea what the outcomes are going to be.”