This is really an aside–something to tuck away for another day.
There’s a lot of discussion here about the meaning of genetics–how much it determines who we are, I suppose. I guess that is because at least for some people, the more essential the role of genetics in determining who you are, the more important genetic parents are. (That’s way over simplified, but will do for now.)
And in that context we’ve also talked about epigenetics. I’m no expert (which you can tell because I am about to link to Wikipedia), but epigenetics is about the extent to which outside factors can alter the actions of genes in ways that may also determine who we are. So once again speaking roughly, epigenetic influences undermine the arguments about the importance of genetics.
I thought of this when listening to a recent episode of Radiolab–one of my favorite podcasts. Bear with me a bit while I explain:
In 2010 Sarah Grey gave birth to identical twin sons, Thomas and Caleb. Identical twins are genetically identical. But, as Sarah and her husband Ross knew from early in the pregnancy, Thomas had anencephaly while Caleb did not. Continue reading
One of my favorite blogs is Olivia’s View. There’s a new post there today that has set me thinking. It’s very brief but it adds in to other things.
What’s noted there is that women over the age of 44 are very likely to have trouble achieving a full term pregnancy with their own 44-year-old eggs. I suppose this isn’t news in a general way, but the detailed findings lend stronger support to something we probably knew anyway.
So what will this mean? Long term it seems to me this is good news for the burgeoning business of egg preservation. Young women (say in their early 20s) will be all the more eager to freeze their eggs. The more clear it becomes that you will lose fertility as you age, the more appealing preserving your youthful fertility will be.
But this is only useful Continue reading
The last post here was about the problem of accidental incest. (Do note the word “accidental” because it is critical–I’m not talking about deliberate, knowing incest.) There are some interesting comments so I thought I’d do another post on the subject, partly to sort out threads and perhaps also to move a bit further along the line here.
I’ll start with a recap of what I meant to be my main point from the last post: Why is the specter of accidental incest troubling? I suppose this is a variation, albeit a significant one, on the question “what’s wrong with incest?” (Understanding why accidental incest is troubling is important to me as I consider what to do about it.)
There are (at least) two non-exclusive answers. Continue reading
In the course of the public debates about use of third-party gametes (particularly what are commonly called “sperm donors”) those opposed often raise the specter of “accidental incest.” (One of the more well-known instances is here, and it’s particularly notable for three reasons: It got a ton of press, it really has nothing to do with use of third-party gametes as it’s about adopted-out siblings, and it is quite possible that it never happened.)
In any event, the idea is that if people do not know they are genetically related then siblings (like the possibly mythical twins who were adopted out into different families) might unwittingly meet, fall in love and have children. I’ve read, in fact, that the affinity arising from the genetic similarity might even make it more likely that siblings would feel attracted to each other, though I have no idea if this is the case.
I don’t mean to dismiss this risk out of hand. It’s obviously possible. The twins story may not be true, but it could be true. And the problem is clearly exacerbated when you have men providing sperm to create scores of offspring. Indeed, concerns about unintentional incest are most often raised precisely in this context. And for what it is worth, I am fine with limiting the number of children who can be conceived with any particular providers sperm (or eggs, but that’s less an issue.)
Now what brings this all up right now is this report from the Hay Festival. Professor Susan Golombok appeared there. She’s a woman whose work I really admire. And, according to press reports, she expressed some concern about the risks of accidental incest. Continue reading
A couple of posts back I wrote about marriage and parenthood and how they are linked together in Oregon. Bottom line (for present purposes) is this: When a married couple in OR uses ART, the spouse of the woman who gives birth is a legal parent, whether that spouse is male or female. The statute itself only speaks of “husband” a few years back the OR Supreme Court reasoned that you couldn’t treat couples using ART differently because of their sex. There’s no good reason for doing so.
Now comes a new case from NY reaching a different result. A married lesbian claiming parental status by virtue of her marriage to the woman who gave birth is told “no,” although I believe a man in her position would have been told yes. Continue reading
I spent this past weekend at a wonderful conference in Boston. Lots of very smart people thinking about ART and many things related to ART. One of the recurrent topics was the importance of anonymity those who provide gametes for third-party reproduction. (I know that this seems a very clunky way to put it–why not just say “sperm donors” and be done with it? There are reasons, as regular readers (of my now irregular blog) will know. For one thing, there’s the word “donor”–which is perhaps not the best word to use for people who are paid. For another, there are overlapping issues for egg providers, and it may be that the overlapping issues are converging. I cannot discuss all this here, but suffice it to say that I choose the clunky language deliberately.)
Anyway, one of the things that interested me was that many different questions were raised and there seemed to be some real disagreement in how to think about these questions. Since I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about anonymity in the past, I thought it might be time to revisit (and maybe reorganize?) my own thoughts on the subject. This could take a couple of posts, but I think it’s worth it.
So first off, there’s what one even means by anonymity. Anonymity is related to secret-keeping. An anonymous donor (in the philanthropic context) is one whose identity is kept secret. But when you think about third-party reproduction, you can think of different levels of secret-keeping. Continue reading
I write about this story, not because I think we are really at the edge of this level of science (I don’t believe that we are) but because it gives me pause. And I do think it is probably only a matter of time before what is discussed here is possible.
The idea is pretty simple:
In the future, it could even be possible for stem cells from a male to be used to produce an egg, allowing an infant to have two biological fathers
First off I have to wonder, purely on a technical level, if there is a reason this would work for men and not women. I mean, if a man’s stem cells could be manipulated to produce and egg, couldn’t a woman’s stem cells be manipulated to produce sperm? Perhaps not since the idea seems to me that men do have an X chromosome–which is where you’re getting the material for an egg—while women do not have a Y chromosome. But really, I digress. This isn’t my point.
I don’t have a general objection to all genetic engineering. I see that it is rife with ethical issues. Continue reading