Brave New World Coming Our Way?

Many of the posts on this blog have discussed ART (that’s Assisted Reproductive Technology and you can check out the tag).   ART creates more than its share of perplexing problems–everything from the parentage of children born to women who are not genetically related to them to the collection of sperm from men who have died.

In fact, the main ART techniques discussed have been around for a while–collecting sperm and eggs, freezing sperm (something they’ve been able to do for quite a while) and eggs (not so long, but creating similar questions), in vitro fertilization (IVF) (which is fertilizing eggs outside of the body and then transferring them to a woman’s womb).

I’ve seen a couple of stories recently about developing techniques that open a new range of questions.  So, for example, they can now do ovary transplants, at least in some circumstances.   

The primary use of this discussed in the article is really not what I think of as the classic transplant–as in moving an ovary from woman A to woman B.  Instead, it is removing an ovary from woman A (perhaps because she is about to undergo chemotherapy) and then subsequently replacing it in woman A.

However, the case discussed is indeed the transfer of an ovary from woman A to woman B, although A and B are identical twins.  And this creates an array of new questions.  (And as I think of these, I also realize I’ve got an array of questions about identical twins, who (as I understand it) have identical genetic make-up.)

For those who contend that it is the genetic link that creates the parent/child relationship, or at least that this is an important component, is the mother of the child the ovary donor rather than the woman who gave birth to the child?  Would that be true even if the conception took place entirely within the ovary recipient’s body?

Frankly, this result seems absurd to me.   (Keep in mind, however, that I’m no fan of the genetic link as determinant of parenthood.   I’d suggest that the prospect of ovary transplants further undermines reliance on genetics as the marker of parenthood.

The second technology is somewhat along the same lines.  Apparently it is now possible to create an artificial ovary and to use it to mature human eggs.   The article I’ve linked to is on the technical side so I’m not sure I’m really understanding it.   But it seems to me they are talking about taking an immature human egg from a person and then placing it in an artificial ovary that could be constructed from tissue from someone else.   In that environment, they were able to bring it to the point at which it could be fertilized.

This isn’t a technology that seems to have a therapeutic application just yet.   But I’m guessing that the key words here are “just yet.”    And it seems to me it further divides up things that have been in the past, indivisible.

Once a woman who gave birth was always genetically related to the child.  IVF changed that and forced us to deconstruct the notion of motherhood.    What changes and challenges will these new technologies bring?   Will someone harvest immature eggs from a recently deceased woman with the idea of freezing them and ripening them at a later point?   Will a market for immature eggs develop?

No answers, only questions.  Stay tuned?

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