Research using skin cells to create sperm and eggs for same-sex couples and the use of third-party mitochondria in the IVF process to prevent mitochondrial diseases is unfortunately nothing new. While the process of reverse engineering cells from tissues and organs and manipulating them into becoming sperm and egg cells has only been tried and succeeded so far in the creation of pups from two female mice, a child has successfully been born using mitochondrial replacement therapy, or three-person IVF. Now, scientists from Oregon Health & Science University have taken their In Vitro Gametogenesis, or IVG, studies one step further in the development of “artificial eggs.”
Similar to mitochondrial replacement therapy which takes the nucleus out of the mother’s egg, implants it into a donor egg, and then fertilizes it with sperm, this next step in IVG empties a donor egg of all DNA and inserts into it a full set of chromosomes from somatic cells such as skin cells – a process called “somatic cell nuclear transfer.” This is similar to the cloning process, except these donor somatic cells are cut in half after being transferred to the empty egg, and then fertilized with sperm, resulting in a zygote genetically related to the somatic cell and sperm contributors. This process is believed to potentially treat infertility, prevent heritable diseases, and allow for same-sex couples to have genetically related children.
Right to life
IVG opens the door for a plethora of children’s rights violations, starting with the most obvious violation of children’s right to life. The regular IVF process is already fraught with trial and error of human lives, as only 7% of lab-created children survive the IVF process, and IVG only continues this hit-and-miss experimentation on children. Paula Amato, an infertility specialist at OHSU, states that IVG is “one of those high-risk, high reward type of projects.” Amato fails to mention who the real victims undergoing this high-risk experimentation are, as the victims are certainly not the adults who may benefit from this new phase in reproductive technology. How many millions of children will be sacrificed in test tubes until this IVG research is “perfected”? There is no “high reward” for these innocent children whose lives are lost as a result of being treated as disposable test subjects.
Right to mother and father
Since somatic cell nuclear transfer opens the door for same-sex couples to have genetically related offspring, specifically same-sex male couples, even more children will be denied their right to their mothers and fathers. While these children may not be missing the important identity-developing aspect of knowing their biological history faced by the donor-conceived, they will be missing out on gender-specific unique and complementary benefits to children. Child development is maximized when children are raised by representatives of both halves of humanity. Children crave the love and affection of a male and female parent. When kids are denied that distinct maternal love, they often experience mother-hunger no matter how doting the father(s) may be:
“I felt the loss. I felt the hole. As I grew, I tried to fill that hole with aunts, my dads’ lesbian friends and teachers. I remember asking my first-grade teacher if I could call her mom. I asked that question of any woman who showed me any amount of love and affection. It was instinctive. I craved a mother’s love even though I was well-loved by my two gay dads.”
More so, these children will intentionally be put at risk of experiencing primal wounds, resulting from being carried and severed from their birth mothers:
“…this foundational profound experience of loss has long-term effects: in fact, life-long effects because the loss has occurred before long-term conscious memory has formed to help process the experience, before skills are learnt to manage the experience, before the intellect has developed to rationalise the experience. It is…that person’s foundational experience of life outside the womb and will remain part of that person throughout their adult life and we testify that removal from the mother at birth has lifelong physiological, psychological and emotional impacts…”
Right to be born free from commodification
The IVF process already consists of preimplantation genetic screening, which screens for chromosomal abnormalities such as Down Syndrome, and inherited genetic anomalies such as cystic fibrosis and spinal muscular atrophy. Embryos are often chosen for transfer based on their likelihood of successful implantation in the womb by a screening process that picks the “best” blastocysts to implant. After these blastocysts are screened, only the ones determined “genetically healthy and normal” are transferred with the hopes of implantation. Since IVG hopes to eliminate the transfer of heritable diseases, those using the process for this purpose could potentially “create hundreds of embryos and use genetic tools to select the ‘best’ one.” What will happen to those embryos that aren’t eugenically deemed the “best” potential human beings? They’ll be indefinitely frozen along with the already millions of humans in frozen storage, discarded, destroyed through scientific research, or, in the best yet still non-ideal scenario, put up for embryo adoption. No matter the outcome for these embryos, human beings are commodified in every scenario in which they are placed.
The United States Congress currently prohibits any research that creates, destroys, or harms human embryos from obtaining federal funding, and the FDA is prohibited from receiving requests involving the practice of starting pregnancies with genetically manipulated embryos. As children’s rights advocates, we must continue to push against any legalization of embryo experimentation that treats human beings like science experiments and further inhibits children’s right to life and right to their mothers and fathers.