Same sex couples could ‘create’ their own biological babies, and a person could even be both mother and father, if fertility scientists get the go ahead.
A group of scientists wants the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill amended to allow artificial sperm and eggs to be used in fertility treatment.
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The method would involve taking cells from an adult and re-programming them so that they develop into either sperm or an egg.
At the moment scientists have not developed a successful technique for this, but they believe that they may be able to do so in the years ahead. They want the law changed to anticipate this.
The law currently permits research into artificial sperm and eggs but bans their use for human reproduction.
If this is changed it could raise the theoretical possibility of same-sex couples creating biological offspring, and even what some have dubbed the “ultimate incest” where the same person is both mother and father.
However, scientists point out that such children may not be viable and would likely suffer from genetic abnormalities – just as incestuous children do today.
Josephine Quintavalle, of Comment on Reproductive Ethics (CORE) said the technique goes against the natural reproductive process and could result in passing genetic fertility problems on to offspring.
So far the method has only been used to create pregnancies in mice. But the resulting offspring were infertile, suffered from severe breathing or walking difficulties, were abnormally large or had stunted growth. All died within three days to five months of being born.
The scientists pressing for an amendment have admitted that producing eggs from male cells and sperm from female cells would be very difficult and could take over a decade to perfect. Nevertheless, they want UK legislation to anticipate such developments.
Bioethicist Professor John Harris said, “The real ethical issue at the moment is to ensure that the important scientific research can continue”.
This development will add further controversy to a Bill which has already been hotly disputed by other scientists, MPs, religious groups and members of the public.