A feminist argument against artificial gametes

Michael Cook
May 28, 2017
Reproduced with Permission

In vitro gametogenesis (IVG)is one of the nightmares of conservative bioethicists. Developing gametes from pluripotent stem cells would allow research into basic science about reproduction, would relieve women of the painful experience of retrieving eggs for IVF, and - most controversial of all -- would increase the range of reproduction options. Gay and lesbian couples would no longer need donations from the opposite sex to create a child; singles could create their own eggs and sperm to have a child genetically identical to themselves.

This is no longer science fiction. Japanese scientists have created fertile mouse pups using eggs created with IVG. It may take years to develop the technique for humans, but it does seem possible.

But it is not just "conservatives" who are disturbed by this possibility, as a blog post in Impact Ethics by Fran├žoise Baylis demonstrates. Baylis, a Canadian bioethicist with a feminist slant, argues that it would be wrong to use this technology because it assumes that a genetic link with a child is essential:

in vitro gametogenesis does not obviously respond to a medical need. Rather, it aims to satisfy a personal interest on the part of prospective parents - namely, a want for genetically-related children. I reject the view that genetic ties are critically important to family-making. Indeed, I believe that we should be wary of overvaluing genetic-relatedness especially when this undermines the legitimacy of social parenting through adoption, blended families, other-mothering and so on.

More generally, any and all practices that reinforce social biases toward genetic parentage are deeply problematic. They contribute to discrimination by reinforcing racism and also contribute to stigmatization by suggesting that some genes are better than others. These facts behove us to recognize the ways in which in vitro gametogenesis, like other reproductive technologies, promotes a modern type of eugenics.