By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Scientists at Stanford University in California have been able to coax embryonic stem cells into becoming eggs and sperm, which could one day lead to the creation of children through entirely artificial means.
The research, published in the journal, Nature, reports that the government-funded research could be a cure for infertility if scientists can replicate the process using a person’s skin cells.
They believe that after exposing a man or woman’s skin cells to a chemical mixture that would coax them to return to an embryonic stem cell state, they could then be transformed into eggs and sperm, thus making it possible for infertile men or women and gay couples to have children that were genetically their own.
While being hailed as a breakthrough, opponents argue that the moral implications of meddling with the building blocks of life in this way risks distoring and damaging relations between family members.
Researcher Rita Reijo Pera, of Stanford’s Centre for Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research, says safety and ethical concerns mean that the use of artificial sperm and eggs would have to be subject to guidelines.
‘Whether one builds the boundaries on religion or just on an internal sense or of right and wrong, these are important,” she told London’s Daily Mail. “In this field, it is not ‘anything goes’.”
Even if guidelines are established, the Church still teaches that the “origin of human life has its authentic context in marriage, and the family” and that “procreation of a new human person come about as a direct result of the conjugal act specific to the love between a husband and a wife.”
As the Church points out in Dignitas Personae in regard to cloning, some types of scientific research “seek to give rise to a new human being without a connection to the act of reciprocal self-giving between the spouses and, more radically, without any link to sexuality. This leads to manipulation and abuses gravely injurious to human dignity.”
History has taught us that nascent human life conceived outside of this loving marital bond is indeed subject to grave perils – such as death by abortion, the use of abortifacient contraceptives, scientific research, or cryopreservation, etc. It also runs the risk of being seen as a commodity rather than an individual human being worthy of life.
Anthony Ozimic, of the UK’s Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, told the Daily Mail that “There are no instances of any major medical advance achieved by abandoning basic ethical principles such as safeguarding the right to life.”
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