The Government is considering supporting plans to allow children to be born who have been created using artificial sperm and eggs, according to press reports.
Liberal Democrat MP, Evan Harris, wants to amend the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill to allow the method to be used for human reproduction. Currently, the law allows the method only for research.
The technique involves taking a cell from a would-be parent and changing it so it becomes either a sperm cell or an egg cell. In vitro fertilisation could then be used to develop a human pregnancy.
Supporters of the plan say it will help infertile couples have genetic offspring. Theoretically, it would also be possible to create an egg and sperm from the same person.
But opponents point out the profound ethical problems of such techniques and question whether they would lead to unforeseen genetic and psychological abnormalities.
So far the method has only be used in mice and it may take many years before it can be successfully used in humans.
News that the Government is considering this plan is likely to deepen the rift within the Labour Party. Three senior Cabinet ministers recently broke with convention of ‘collective responsibility’ and said they could not support the Bill because of ethical concerns. Many pro-life backbench MPs have also threatened to rebel.
Other controversial measures in the Bill include allowing animal-human embryos and so-called ‘saviour siblings’. The issue of abortion is also expected to arise as the Bill progresses through the Commons.