My mother was a fetal ovary

Irving News Comments
Reproduced with Permission

[NOTE: The scenario described below is true and foreboding. These are a very important series of articles that must be read. But the article only addresses the sexual reproduction of new human beings. So imagine the scenario 20 years from now when a woman or a man will have to explain to their partners and children that neither their mothers nor their fathers were ever born, but rather that they came from "reconstructed" oocytes and artificial gametes concocted by some IVF technician! That also means that the children and grandchildren of these asexually reproduced men and women have no grandparents or great-grandparents! Not just the natural "family", but the entire natural "family tree" will disappear. I wonder what will take its place?

Similar scenarios describing the asexual reproduction of human beings -- or a combination of both -- should also be addressed publicly, especially since we are well into the age of human genetic engineering. To see just how far we already are into asexual human reproduction and human genetic engineering, see the 31-page selected bibliography listing such research experiments from PubMed by Iriving, "Scientific References, Human Genetic Engineering (Including Cloning): Artificial Human Embryos, Oocytes, Sperms, Chromosomes and Genes" (May 25, 2004), at: Some of these experiments involved female IVF "clients", who were "informed" that the immediate product of SCNT cloning was just a "reconstructed oocyte"! All of this is, and can be, done in IVF clinics, using techniques and skills honed during asexual animal research over the last 25 years. For suggestions about why we should care about asexual human reproduction and human genetic engineering, see Irving, "Who cares about genetic engineering?" (June 22, 2004), at: -- DNI]
Anne Marie Owens
National Post
Wednesday, September 29, 2004

My mother was a fetal ovary

Over the next few months, the National Post will take readers on a provocative and startling journey from the cradle to the grave. The first instalment is Extreme Babymaking, a six-part series. Today's story explores how, in some years' time, with no regulation, we could be creating children from mothers who were never born.

- - -

"Imagine this scenario: A new couple is out on a date, sitting down together, getting to know each other over dinner. The woman leans across the table and says, 'Tell me about your mother.' The man looks at her and says, 'Well, actually, my mother was never born.'"

Dr. Gulam Bahadur pauses for a minute after telling this seemingly impossible story and surveys his audience.

The large amphitheatre at Montreal's Palais des Congres is crowded with the world's most renowned fertility and reproductive experts, who all sit in stunned silence for a moment trying to take in what the slight, bespectacled, soft-spoken speaker is saying.

"Can you imagine?" says Dr. Bahadur, aware that he has the rapt attention of his powerful audience. "It's extremely frightening, it's bizarre, but in some years' time, with no regulation, we could be creating a child from mothers who were never born. Using fetal ovaries ... Can you imagine? A genetic mother who was not born?"

Dr. Bahadur, head of fertility and reproductive medicine for University College Hospitals in London, England, and a leading researcher on the ethical challenges of reproductive technology, is talking about what he sees as the brave new world of babymaking.

Female fetal tissue, which is rich in eggs, could be fertilized in the lab, and the resulting embryos, if successfully implanted, could result in a child being born. Because the fetal tissue would be most likely to come from an aborted, miscarried or stillborn baby, the "mother" of this child would never have been born.

"At our disposal is very powerful technology right now," says Dr. Bahadur, whose message when he talks about these controversial issues -- at the World Congress on Fertility &Sterility in Montreal last spring, at a gathering in Berlin over the summer for the European Society of Human Reproduction, and in a paper published in a recent issue of the international journal Human Reproduction -- is not so much to frighten or alarm, but to force his colleagues in reproductive medicine to contemplate the complex moral and ethical quagmires they are creating.

He oversees one of the largest facilities for storing frozen sperm and eggs, where daily experience has exposed him to the reality of children as young as 12 undergoing cancer treatment depositing their sperm and eggs to use when they are older, where wives seek to use sperm taken from their dead husbands to have the children they'd always planned on and where even the parents of deceased cancer patients attempt to use their dead child's sperm or eggs to allow them to be grandparents long after their son or daughter has died.

These are means of reproduction that are about as far removed from the old-fashioned notion of babymaking as can be imagined, and they throw into question all of our prevailing assumptions about what it means to be a father or a mother, and what it means to be a family.

Behind every startling, science-fiction-like scenario are poignant personal stories, which, combined with the rapid advances in technology, are what are propelling the scientific and medical community to boldly go where they may not have contemplated going before.

Some of the most dramatic innovations have come in the freezing of eggs, which because of the eggs' extreme fragility, has had very limited success until just recently.

In Berlin this summer, a group of European scientists announced they had successfully produced a two-cell embryo from a cancer patient whose ovarian tissue was removed and frozen, and, two years later, thawed and returned to her body, reversing her menopause and priming her for pregnancy.

Then, just a few days ago came the remarkable news of the first baby born after ovarian tissue was removed and frozen during cancer treatment, then reimplanted in the mother's pelvis six years later.

The case of Ouarda Touirat, the 32-year-old Belgian woman who gave birth to baby Tamara last week, has not just brought new hope to female cancer patients, it has really opened up the broader possibility for women to freeze their eggs at a younger age for use when they are older.

All of a sudden, the move to make babies from unborn mothers doesn't seem so extreme.

Dr. Bahadur says the process required to mature the eggs outside the body, which could take about 180 days, is "scientifically daunting right now, but not at all impossible."

It may be easier, in cases where women do not have functioning ovaries, to graft the fetal tissue on to another woman's body, which would kick-start the reproductive process. Another possibility, though one with a much higher sci-fi factor, would be to graft the fetal tissue on to a rat or a rabbit and use the reproductive systems of those animals to trick the tissue into egg production, and then remove the eggs for fertilization.

"When you begin shifting the goalposts, anything's possible," Dr. Bahadur said in an interview. "The technological aspects are relatively easy ... This is all quite feasible, not just futuristic stuff."

© National Post 2004

Copying of this material is free for non-commercial educational and research use. Unless explicitly stated, copyright of this material is owned by the author and/or sponsoring organization, and/or newswire services.