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Friday, 13 July, 2001, 09:12 GMT 10:12 UK
Have fertility techniques gone too far?

Australian researchers believe they have found a way to fertilise an egg with cells from any part of the body, rather than sperm.

The research is at a very early stage, but infertility scientist Dr Orly Lacham-Kaplan said it had the potential to allow men who have no sperm cells to father children.

Eventually, it could also enable lesbian couples to give birth to a baby girl without the need for a father. Women do not carry the genetic information required to make a boy.

However, it ultimately also raises the possibility that men may no longer be required in future to play any part in the reproduction process.

Have fertility techniques gone too far? Or is it a welcome step for those who are unable to have children?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

Can anyone tell me what ethics are? Can anyone tell me what morals are? And can anyone give me an example of each, and say why they are universally right? Before one starts commenting on the rights and wrongs of a case, one would do well to understand what "right" and "wrong" mean. As far as I can see, there is no right or wrong. There is only opinion. And throughout history, majorities have enforced their opinions through the oppression of minorities. This case is no different, but I think it's time we became a little more enlightened. If I had a choice, I would choose to subscribe to a law that made it illegal to kill me. But one that makes it illegal for someone to have a baby? That isn't protection; it's interference, and I choose to be outside of it.
Darren Reynolds, UK

I can only wish it had arrived sooner

Anne-Lise Pasch, England
Having born a child from my life partner's brother - as the closest biological match - its endearing to me that technology is finally allowing those of us who wish to bear the child of those we love is finally on the horizon. I can only wish it had arrived sooner.
Anne-Lise Pasch, England

The time is drawing closer when those of us who practice the "natural method" will be condemned for placing our offspring at risk of mutation or disease. We will be the "quaint" people - much like the Amish - using the "old ways" to preserve our heritage.
Mark Thompson, USA

In another news item today, we are told that cloning introduces genetic defects into the cloned animal. It is a little known fact that in vitro fertilization and similar procedures can also lead to little-understood genetic and developmental defects. We are very ignorant of the long-term consequences of the techniques we have invented, both for individuals - and what is more disturbing - for the gene pool as a whole. Any responsible person thinking of creating a life in this way must decide if his or her motives are truly more important than the health of the potential child (or even that child's children). Adoption is the most responsible option.
Matthew Growhoski, United States

This is a grotesque manipulation of nature. Occasionally it can be the case that where one member of a couple find themselves infertile, there could be a valid reason for this. The idea of human reproduction is one of biodiversity - diluting the gene pool in a bid to gradually eradicate genetic disorders - not to narrow the field. You only need to look at pedigree dogs with their well documented "character traits" (or neuroses, depending how you look at it) and occasional birth defects such as deafness, to see what the potential is. In a country with the highest rate of teenage motherhood in Europe, surely adoption or fostering is the answer. Divert the resources to eradicate cancers and poverty.
Chris, UK

While I sympathize with childless couples, lesbian or otherwise, might I point out that there are 6 billion people in the world. Infertility is hardly a rampant problem for humans. No, this breakthrough is not something evil or fearsome. However, as with any change, whether construed by the masses as morally good or bad, this will have repercussions. Gender imbalances in the population is one that comes to mind first.

Making people live up to the ages of 70 and 80 is probably not "what God intended" either (but certainly popular). The only thing that can be done in cases such as these is to, as intelligently as possible, think of possible adverse effects. Knowing though, that if it can be done successfully, it probably will, and the true repercussions will probably surface much later. And then it will be too late, because it is much easier to start something than stop it. Welcome to "Human Behaviour" 101. It's in your genes - stop fighting it - your lives are too short to make it important for your own survival to think long term. It is what God intended. Really.
Aarti Sharma, USA

Fertilization techniques only contribute to homogenising the gene pool. If someone is sterile there is probably a good biological reason. We need diversity if the human race is to survive the next unknown epidemic. If you cannot bear and want children do the world a favour and adopt.
Stephen, USA

Don't knock those who seek to remedy the situation

Margaret Simpson, UK
If anyone of these people who have commented so far had ever had to deal with infertility, as myself and my partner have, they would welcome any advance which allows them to become a family, instead of a couple. Unless you know the deep and painful hurt caused by childlessness, don't knock those who seek to remedy the situation. It's all very well saying cure infertility, but time doesn't stand still, and until such cures are established, I for one will jump at any chance to have a child by any means.
Margaret Simpson, UK

Every scientific achievement undergoes a testing phase. Although early practitioners of medicine just as often harmed their patients as helped them, medical practice as we know it today is irreplaceable. Genetics, just like any other science needs to be given a time period of at least a few generations to be perfected. It is not a selfish pursuit to expand the knowledge and capability of humankind. It is selfish to hold back progress for the sake of a few generations.
Anton Foudimov, Canada

The really scary thing on this page is not a 'fatherless' baby but the sheer, utter, inexcusable stupidity of most of the comments here - including the genetics graduate, who should really know better. Techniques never hurt anyone - it's the stupid uses we put them too that do it. If we followed the advice of all the knuckle-dragging Luddites here, we'd all be living a happy, natural life without antibiotics, vaccination, perinatal care or x-rays. Think about how bad science is, the next time you use one of those...
James Torbish, UK

The West has an obsession with life at any cost. But what is forgotten is that life is a cycle ending in death with loss and disappointment and triumph and joy along the way. For some unfortunate people, one of the disappointments is not being able to have children of their own. That is a part of life that should be accepted, as it has been for millennia. The other problem in the developed world is the preoccupation with individual rights - suddenly, we all have a right to be parents. But since "Nature" does not deal in rights, we must re-examine our priorities.

There are reasons for infertility and these must be tackled to prevent or cure infertility; or infertility must be accepted where there is no cure/prevention. It is time for humanity to get back to the interests of the many, the many who are alive already, and abandon our obsession with individual rights and needs.
Sue Clayton, Zambia

Perhaps if there was not so much social pressure to reproduce, and less prejudice against those who don't for whatever reason, there would not be so much demand for these treatments. We are led to believe that only through parenthood can true fulfilment be achieved. Motherhood is seen as the most important thing a woman can ever do and having a baby the most exciting thing that can happen to her. Even in the 21st century choosing not to have children is seen as selfish and unnatural. Perhaps society should value the childless a little more. After all overpopulation is at the root of a lot of the world's problems.
Jane, Wales, UK

Should we not be putting all our effort into controlling population growth not adding to it. The world can not support us and our industrial output as it is and yet we are still addicted to the belief that growth is the only way forward. Just use some realism here. We have to cut population for the world to survive. So let's stop wasting resources on creating lives that don't yet exist and spend them instead on educating those that do, to procreate less and thus save some of the world for future generations.
Ed, Australia (UK)

I find this type of research very interesting indeed... who knows, this might be the next step in human evolution, and may spur scientists to revise or update the theory of evolution to take into account what would seem to be a narrowing of human diversity through this new "asexual" method of reproduction. This type of research in my opinion will also help with asserting the importance of women within human society, not only because they seem to be the only sex that is necessary to propagate the human race, but also because this type of research clashes with and refutes a lot of theory of evolutionary psychology, which tends to be somewhat misogynistic.
A. Hamed, Canada

Excellent! When you have a condition similar to mine and you really love kids but you cannot father your own children you feel devastated, you do anything to have a family. When can I have a consultation for treatment?
Kaush Mistry, UK

Professor Winston says that this is more ethical than cloning human embryos, but I really can't see the difference. I feel terrible for childless couples, but as others have pointed out, there are other methods of giving love to a child, such as through fostering and adoption. I am sure that it has much to do with vanity that people want to bring the fruit of their own loins into the world to perpetuate their own genes. In the meantime, children all over the world are wanting for the love and secure upbringing that these childless couples could bring them if they could only look past their own selfish desires.
Zoe, Wales

Why does everyone keep bashing this break-through, and science, with the nature stick, how natural is it to drive to the office in the morning? Or buy meat from a supermarket, the nature argument went west years ago with the introduction of organ transplants and processed foods.

Most scientific breakthroughs could be considered, "unnatural", especially in medicine, but then you're hardly likely to complain about being given someone else's blood when yours is draining out onto the road, or another persons heart because yours is bad, I don't hear anyone complaining about scientists there, now they're good, nice, kind scientists. This is just another step forwards, and like most scientific discoveries, it has to wait for the average person to catch up.
Carl, UK

The truth is stranger than fiction because God is a much better author

Jamal Wills, USA
Nature gave us intelligence and ingenuity as an adaptation to compensate for our lack of diversity. I think it is great that science can help more and more people reproduce by many and various means. It means we will not be forever bound by the random processes of natural selection and billions of deaths will not be necessary for our future evolution. The truth is stranger than fiction because God is a much better author.
Jamal Wills, USA

What exactly does Justin mean by the 'selfishness of lesbians and other such couples'? It isn't lesbians who have researched or developed this technique. Don't use the research of - probably a straight man - to bash women who happen to be lesbians.
Wayne, UK

That's it then, the number of men needed will dwindle. Through technology we'll be chosen less and less by future generations, as our usefulness wanes. Even now we are becoming an endangered species, so I propose we are given the same protection and care that other endangered species are given and have our every whim taken care of in case we die out completely.
Anand, Belgium

Maybe the world will be a better place to live in

Derek, ex-pat, Brazil
If they can produce a bunch of people, who are non-violent, non-homophobic and anti racist in a few years time, maybe the world will be a better place to live in.
Derek, ex-pat, Brazil

Well done Helen from the UK; the usual brain dead feminist response that puts the argument for cloning very well.
Gerry, Scotland

I don't understand why we are so concentrated on procreation when there are so many nations burdened by over-population and starvation. Why do we feel the need to "synthesise" more people?
Michael, USA

Guys, this is great... the technique can only be used to create more girls! This means that soon, women will greatly outnumber men. Bring it on!
Brendan Fernandes, UK

Removing paternal necessity is neither God's design nor Darwin's 'natural selection'. It is the next step in catalogue babies, of which gender selection is the least of mankind's worries. As with all modern medical and genealogical advances, there will be far too few tests, and this technology will be unleashed on the world without any understanding of the implications. We should worry, because unlike 'Jurassic Park', nature will not win the day over the untold and unlimited powers of science.
Abigail Phillips, England, UK

Every achievement has its own price

Obago Cates, Kenya
Every achievement has its own price. The original God's plan was perfect. Any other way is tantamount to challenging our own creation. It is a disaster in waiting.
Obago Cates, Kenya

What happens when these seemingly 'normal' babies, the result of weird and wonderful fertility techniques, start producing babies of their own, or when the grandchildren/great grandchildren appear? Might not future generations be cursed by the short-sighted arrogance of today's scientists (spurred on by a self-centred, self-absorbed public who are more concerned with their own 'rights' than those of future generations)?
Angela Mbuli, Scotland

Money being wasted by people who consider themselves above public opinion and need - I wish them the worst !
Carl, UK

Why don't these clever scientists spend more time actually curing infertility?

Nick, UK
The World Health Organisation have stated that 'The cost of one IVF baby is equal to the cost of preventing one hundred couples becoming infertile in the first place'. Why don't these clever scientists spend more time actually curing infertility rather than finding yet more horrible laboratory methods of creating life? If I was infertile, I would want to be cured, not to hand all hopes of children to some geeky scientist.
Nick, UK

While many reactions may tend to oppose this geneticists' baby-making as a form of misstating nature and man, problems that involuntary childlessness come to pose ultimately unfold into unkind mental and psychosocial circumstances. This type of child-making development can be made more meaningful if it will be tailored to serve real emotional and health care needs rather than a development in genetic biology without a real human face. Science in itself is good for the society but such scientific break-throughs must be good for the spirit of humanity and the social good.
Dr Patrick Iroegbu, Belgium

I think we have at last found an objective definition of obscene.
David Szondy, USA (British)

For goodness sake why you just ruining the nature - first in the name of personal liberty, now in the name of science? Create a whole new world on a different planet if you can, but leave us here with nature.
Shakil Ahmed, UK

This development was inevitable

Chris Bartlett, Japan
Anyone who is surprised by this development doesn't know enough about the world of fertility techniques and genetic engineering to condemn. This development was inevitable. There is nothing basically wrong about this technique, though careful regulation is vital. On the subject of sex selection again, I don't think it's wrong, but we must ration its use to assure balance. There's a timebomb in China and India where ultra sound machines have been used to turn whole villages into male only areas. If there were only 1 woman for every 10 men, wouldn't you fight for the right to have a partner? Wouldn't everyone?
Chris Bartlett, Japan ex UK

The last thing the world needs is for having babies to be made easier.
Alex, Scotland

It's really a great advancement to fertilise eggs without sperm. But the world is already over-populated and many people don't have sufficient food to eat and many are suffering with cancer, Aids etc. In my opinion it would be more helpful and useful for humankind if the same effort was put into areas like cancer, Aids and diabetes.
Maruthi, London

Where a child has come from is largely irrelevant

Tim, UK
It's a simple statement of fact that men wouldn't be needed for reproduction, but that really is immaterial. People no longer become involved in relationships for the purposes of reproduction. Sex, yes, but not babies. Where a child has come from is largely irrelevant. What's important is that they have a secure and loving home. Scientists are on their way to creating artificial wombs and eggs can already be removed, frozen, and used later. Perhaps we can look forward to a society where kids are born in the lab and assigned to couples that practical and personality tests show would be compatible and loving.
Tim, UK

All technologies can be used for good or for bad reasons. I see nothing wrong in couples unable to conceive using this technique to have children. I think more testing needs to be done but please, please, please don't get all reactionary. Blind technophobia is as stupid and as dangerous as blind acceptance.
Rajeev, Germany

Those Aussies can say what they like. I know which method of baby production I find more enjoyable!
Guy Chapman, UK

And how long before the egg is no longer required? Someone will be working on it somewhere....

Ultimately I don't think this kind of technology can be controlled

Malcolm McMahon, York, UK
Ultimately I don't think this kind of technology can be controlled. Try to regulate it by law and you just create a black market. Try to regulate the development of the necessary knowledge and you cripple medical research in areas which are likely to be the wellspring of 21st century medicine, where biology and engineering coverage from both sides of the divide. It's going to be an interesting century. May these developments increase the wonderful diversity of human life, rather than be used to make everyone from a standard mould.
Malcolm McMahon, York, UK

Why waste money on studying artificial fertilisation when the world is full of children in need of care and nourishment? Use the money for charity.
T. Vsnen, Finland

I recently saw the film 'Gattaca' and it really does spell out the doom if we follow such an unnatural path. Whether you believe in God or not, you can't help but feel the wrongness of playing with human life. Is it not more important that we improve the way we live with each other?
Verity, UK

Let's concentrate on giving solutions to the vulnerable people who are alive

Daniel O'Neil, Ireland
When I think of the millions of children born into this world who may not live until their first birthday due to curable disease, this kind of multi-million dollar research churns my stomach. Let's concentrate on giving solutions to the vulnerable people who are alive, not invest in mad scientists who build Frankenstein humans (and mice) in their laboratories.
Daniel O'Neil, Cork, Ireland

As men almost certainly helped or had a large part to play in this technology, far from making men useless, as Helen has suggested, who is going to guard over the banks of women we are going to use for cloning soldiers? Optimistically yours,
Tim Rose, UK

To argue that something is good or "right" because it is natural, is fallacious. The risks of putting our toes in the genetic pool and stirring it (unnaturally) are potentially many, but it must be borne in mind, that risks are not always bad. Some good may come of it but like all medicine, there are undoubtedly going to be unwanted side effects.
Sandra, England

Absolute waste of time and money

Asif Iqbal, UK
Absolute waste of time and money. This is only to make the "first claim". Soon scientists will try to find a way to impregnate men, excusing that their wives cannot conceive and further that homosexual males can have children without a mother.
Asif Iqbal, UK

Way, way too much tampering with fertility which is only ever going to help a few and mostly wealthy people. It does nothing to stop real suffering, pain, disease. The world does not need yet more ways to make more humans. We do need to help those that are already living, but of course that doesn't boost scientific egos.
Nigel, Cornwall, England

I don't know one person who is not whole-heartedly opposed to genetic tinkering. Do you? Public opinion is vehemently opposed to it on all fronts. Only a couple of the opinions expressed on this page (which is usually split) are vaguely positive. People, no matter what their religion or circumstance simply don't agree with it. It is one issue the human race does agree on. So how does it continue? Who is sponsoring this research? Who is playing God above the strong opinion of the vast majority?
Ryan Short, South Africa in England

Next you will relieve the female of any reproductive functions

Jonathon Westley, UK
Rejoice! More scientific breakthroughs! Now you've gotten rid of the male part of the equation, next you will relieve the female of any reproductive functions. Just make parentless babies! Babies from trees, babies from flowers. Hey, I just thought of something scary, could this be the ultimate plot of females to rid the world of malekind? A female only has the genes to produce female offspring, and since the male takes no part, he will slowly be choked out of extinction... and suddenly the words "I wouldn't kiss you if you were the last man alive" have ominous meaning!
Jonathon Westley, Manchester, UK

If things are going to happen, they're going to happen, and neither you nor I can say 'It's going too far!' because (a) it's subjective and (b) even if it wasn't, how can it be stopped? As long as there is a market this sort of thing will thrive and in a few years we will think nothing of it. So let us stop being Luddites.
Bilal Patel, London, UK

Be afraid, be very afraid!!

Dave Wright, UK
Be afraid, be very afraid!! Are we going to play with nature until we completely kill or over populate this planet? What nature decides for us all is generally for a reason. I can understand the fertilisation of couples wanting children, but let's draw the line now. This should be a last resort, not a first.
Dave Wright, UK

What a truly terrible thought. I do wish scientists would stop tinkering with nature. We are in Huxley's "Brave New World" without even realising how we got there.
Janet Gladstone, UK

Once again, we're developing technology that will further humankind's diversion from a common-sense based ethical path. The selfishness of lesbian and other such couples shows no bounds. Time to learn to live with the way you are and not tamper with nature's way.
Justin, UK

Fantastic - a way to make men feel completely and utterly pointless, at last revenge is nigh!!! How about we get them running around after us as women have run around after men for so many centuries?
Helen, UK

What a waste of time and effort

Alex Banks, UK, living in France
What a waste of time and effort. Instead of trying to beat nature at its own game, how about they try working with it to help infertile couples have a natural normal child that wasn't conceived in a laboratory. But if they did that, they'd never make the ego enhancing scientific journals. Sometimes scientists can't see past the end of their own noses.
Alex Banks, UK, living in France

Yup, the world is finally going crazy. Very soon, men and women won't need each other to procreate. Some gene might be discovered in men which would allow them to conceive and then the "embryo" could be carried to term in some fancy incubator specifically designed for the purpose. Won't that just be fantastic???
Folakemi Vaughn Leigh, Nigeria

If something gives people more choice and causes nobody any harm, then it can only be a good thing.
Robert, UK

I'm sick of hearing about the so-called plight of those who are unable to have children by conventional means. There are plenty of alternatives, e.g. adoption, and thousands of children out there in need of loving homes. It is pure selfishness that demands a child be a genetic child, and a market whipped up by IVF outfits that profit from the demand that they create.
Susan Ellis, UK

As a genetics graduate I find this incredibly disturbing

Conrad Bate, UK
As a genetics graduate I find this incredibly disturbing from two angles. My first point is that is that it is objectively wrong. From a moral, scientific and intellectual perspective. I am sorry that this is not everyone's heartfelt opinion. My second thought (although not automatically relevant to this case) is that with so many countries around the world THIS proves that there will always be places where scientists can "hide" to side-step any attempt at international genetic regulation.
Conrad Bate, UK

Just because you CAN, doesn't make it right. Why don't these people stop wasting time on things like this and concentrate on more important issues like cures for cancer, Aids, and other diseases? Or are we about to see even more perversions of nature by warped people attempting to have the biological children of famous people, just by scratching off a few skin cells or hairs? I can see the custody battles already!
Tel, UK

God's design was immaculate conception for one not all... Where is the harmony in nature if any of the 'equal and opposites' are removed from the equation?
Will, Portugal

How scary is this prospect? Please, please read 'Brave New World' Is truth scarier than fiction?
Elaine Duffy, England

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See also:

10 Jul 01 | Health
Eggs fertilised without sperm
05 Jul 01 | Fertility conference 2001
Concern over baby sex 'guarantee'
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