December 16, 2010
According to an article published in the August 2010 issue of the Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics scientists were able to manufacture an artificial ovary which then produced a viable human egg. Human ovarian tissue (described in the article as "self-assembled human theca and granulosa cell micro tissues") was obtained as the “starter” for the artificial ovary, which was grown in the laboratory. Furthermore, the article speculated that "in vitro maturation of primordial [eggs] promises to yield the greatest number of fertilizable [eggs] for future reproduction." There is speculation that this will be a stepping stone towards successful human cloning.
Each time we attain a scientific “advance” like this one, we tread into dangerous territory. What happens to unused embryos? What of people who want a child who has (or doesn’t have) a certain genetic trait, ranging from the sex of the child to the presence or absence of disease? Do they have the right to simply discard embryos that don’t measure up? What of parents who already have a child suffering from an illness that stem cells from a healthy compatible donor might help to save? Should they be allowed to select embryos simply on the basis of possible benefit to an existing child? And again, should they be allowed to simply discard the embryos that don’t fit their criteria?
If we develop technology which allows us to harvest some cells from a life in its earliest stages for growth in the lab, should we be allowed to harvest these cells, then sacrifice that life? If fetal anomalies are detected, should the mother me allowed to “terminate the pregnancy”, regardless of how far along her pregnancy has progressed? Who has parental rights when a surrogate mother decides she wants to keep the baby? What if the wrong embryo is implanted? (For a horrifying example of this, read this post.) Should an anonymous sperm donor later be able to demand to take an active role in decisions affecting his biological child?
Questions like these merely scratch the surface.
The technological progress we make carries with it responsibilities. To date, it seems we take little time to consider the ramifications of progress in terms of these responsibilities until we’ve got the tiger by the tail. From outward appearances, it appears that the scientists making these “advances” are so bent on being first to achieve them that they give no thought to the ethical dilemmas which will result. It would be well worth considering this in advance, though, lest this “progress” lead us straight to hell.