Same-sex parents: 'possible,' not 'moral'

NASHVILLE (BP) -- Same-sex couples could soon have their own biological children by utilizing a reproductive technology being developed by researchers at Cambridge University and Israel's Weizmann Institute of Science. But Christian bioethicists have classified the potential new technology as rife with moral problems.

Exuberance over such technologies is "all expressed in terms of what the adults want and desire," Paige Cunningham, executive director of the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity, told Baptist Press. "I would like someone to say, 'What about the children?' They don't have any voice in how they are constructed. They don't have any voice in how they are the subject of an experiment like this."

The Cambridge and Weizmann Institute researchers have discovered how to take skin cells from an adult, transform them into what are known as induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS) and then develop those iPS cells into the precursors of human eggs and sperm, various news sources have reported. The production of iPS cells is not new, but their potential development into eggs and sperm is.

The next step of the research process will be to develop the precursor cells -- known as primordial germ cells (PGCs) -- into mature sperm and eggs. The maturation process will involve inserting the PGCs into a human or animal ovary or testicle, or developing a laboratory process to achieve the same effect.

If the research proves successful, an egg could be developed from the skin cells of a male and then combined with the sperm of another male to produce an embryo. A surrogate mother would have to carry the resultant baby to term. Alternately, a female's skin cells could be developed into sperm and combined with an egg from another female, with one of the two female partners carrying the baby to term.

The same process, if developed successfully, could allow a single person to contribute both an egg and sperm and produce a child without a second parent.

"We have succeeded in the first and most important step of the process, where we succeed in reaching the progenitor cell state for sperm and egg (though it is very important to emphasize that we have not achieved mature sperm and eggs)," Jacob Hanna, one of the lead researchers in the project, said according to The Daily Beast. "So we are now focusing on completing the second half of this process. Once that is achieved this may become useful for any individual with fertility problems."

If lesbians someday use this technique to become parents, they will only be able to produce female offspring unless a Y chromosome is somehow imported into their genetic material -- because female genetic material does not contain the Y chromosomes necessary to produce baby boys.

"We're talking about manufacturing children in all of these [scenarios]," David Prentice, vice president and research director of the Charlotte Lozier Institute in Washington, D.C., told BP. "If you get into that mindset, you might envision having not a sperm bank, but a Y-chromosome bank where you can just add a Y chromosome to some of these cells -- find the right mix that you want of traits and add that Y chromosome in there. It's of great concern."

Producing rather than procreating a baby is "intrinsically wrong," Cunningham said.

"When we start constructing children by using some cytoplasm from this cell or the nucleus from that cell and start mixing things up, we are no longer welcoming [the children], but we are creating them, in many cases to fulfill a desire or need of our own," Cunningham said.

Another danger of developing babies from PGCs is that the research process may involve the destruction of embryos as scientists seek to develop a human by trial and error, Cunningham said. She also expressed concern about the need for surrogate mothers in some cases.

"The introduction of a variety of third parties into the process of creating a child" is "not the way that children were intended to come into being," Cunningham said. "Just because technology makes it possible doesn't make it moral."

Developing babies from PGCs could produce children with genetic defects as well as cause psychological harm not quantifiable with science, Cunningham said.

"Anytime you start messing around with genes, there is a high likelihood of harm," Cunningham said.

Biological same-sex parents could be a reality by 2017, The Daily Beast predicted. The research was published in the Jan. 15 issue of the journal Cell.

David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service.
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