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Notre Dame Bioethicist Foresees Manufactured Sperm and Eggs–Soon


Diane Montagna - published on 03/25/15

So, for example, imagine the following thing: imagine two lesbian partners who would like to have a genetically related child. And you take the skin cells from one of the women and use either the typical cloning technique or you could use the induced pluripotent state technologies and modify her skin cell into becoming a pluripotent cell, i.e. a stem cell, and undifferentiated cell, and then tease that cell into becoming a sperm cell. They’ve done this in mice.

Then you take that sperm cell, from the woman’s skin cell, and you use it to fertilize her partner’s egg. And then you have a baby that would be genetically 50% of each of the two partners.  

Is this currently happening? 

Not in humans yet. But it’s not far away. They’ve been able to do it in animals. So it’s pretty extraordinary. And Gil is concerned that his argument about the nature of children and how they are made has fallen on deaf ears in a lot of instances. 

I think that it’s still worth making the argument that children are gifts. They are not projects. And the more technical mastery you introduce into that process by which children come into the world, the more you convert them into being a kind of object of their parent’s will, and that’s not good. So I think assisted reproductive technology especially augmented with genomic knowledge is something that we really need to mindful of going forward as well. 

Gil Meilaender, a Christian ethicist from Valparaiso University, talked about adoption in his lecture. Could you share with us his points on adoption and reproductive technologies?

Yes, I really appreciated Gil’s remarks about adoption, about the importance of adoption and the importance of avoiding an emerging problem. Some people, in their haste and in their zeal to oppose assisted reproductive technologies, or surrogacy and anonymous sperm donation and so on, or those who wish to oppose same-sex marriage, adopt a kind of argument based on biological kinship. They almost have a reductive attachment to the notion of biological kinship and biological parentage that would undermine the appropriate understanding of spiritual adoption, which is what Gil was talking about.

You hear people say: you shouldn’t make a child without a dad. You shouldn’t make a child who comes from an anonymous sperm donor, or you shouldn’t create an institution of marriage that’s open to same-sex couples because the children that come into that situation will be missing one parent or the other parent. There are arguments against all of those practices that don’t depend on a reductive understanding of kinship and biological connection. But once we hitch our wagon to that particular argument, it takes us into places that, as Gil said, are quite problematic and call into question the legitimacy of adoptive families, which we shouldn’t do.

I think Gil made a beautiful argument, saying at the heart of Christian theology, and at the heart of our connection to God, is the concept of adoption and the role of sonship and daughtership when it’s not your original posture. [Adoption] is actually a loving choice. It’s a way of giving these children a loving family in a way that she wouldn’t otherwise have been able to do. 

The other thing is this reductive emphasis on kinship and biologically having a child of your own, and this is really what Gil’s final argument was, that Christians are not obsessed with the idea of having a child of your own in terms of blood lineage. Because that obsession leads someone to assisted reproductive technologies. “By whatever means necessary, I’m going to have my kid,” as opposed to building your family through adoption. 

Notre Dame came under some fire for allegedly not maintaining its Catholic identity, especially in light of President Obama’s visit in 2009. What’s the status now of Notre Dame’s Catholic identity?

I love Notre Dame and there’s no place I’d rather be. And I came to Notre Dame because of its Catholic identity, and I know that’s true of all my colleagues in the Law School. And if you look at Notre Dame, I think the future is bright, and I’m optimistic about Notre Dame’s enhancing its status as the flagship university of the Church.

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