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  • Tied Up in Nots over Genetic Parentage
  • Josephine Johnston (bio)

Although Fukuyama and Furger are not the first to suggest that the interests of children should be among the most pressing concerns attending assisted reproduction, their decision to stress children’s well-being and health is still noteworthy and commendable. In a business motivated strongly by the interests of would-be parents, they do well to remind us that the intended results of assisted reproduction are future persons who must live intimately with the decisions of their parents, fertility services providers, and any egg, sperm, embryo, or other donors involved in their creation.

What I find strange about their proposal for regulating reprogenetics, however, is one of the prohibitions that they suggest is key to safeguarding children’s interests.

Fukuyama and Furger do not set out very many substantive recommendations as to what should be prohibited, permitted, or regulated. They focus instead on detailing the regulatory mechanism itself. Nevertheless, they identify general ethical principles that the regulatory system should promote and a few targets for prohibition and regulation that follow from these ethical principles. In addition to banning reproductive cloning, the creation of human-animal chimeras for reproductive purposes, germline modification, and the patenting of human embryos, they seek to outlaw the creation of children who are not the genetic offspring of one man and one woman. Anything else—the creation of a child with genetic material from two men, or two women, or one man and two women, and so on—would violate both a “fundamental biological principle” and the moral commitment to protecting the health and well-being of children.

“Heather Has Two Mommies”

In the early days of assisted reproduction, the use of donor sperm prompted questions about parentage: who is the “father”—the sperm donor or the man who will help raise the child? Indeed, until the law clarified that the man who intends to raise the child is the legal father, some fertility clinics would mix the sperm of a few donors together so that no one could know which donor had fathered the child.

Similar questions were raised by egg and embryo donation and surrogate gestation: who is the “real mother”—the egg donor, the woman who gestates the child, or the woman who intends to raise the child? While not always as easy to solve as parentage questions in the sperm donation context, we have generally come to recognize the intended parents as the legal and social parents of any child born from donated gametes or embryos, and the donors are understood simply as donors, or as “genetic parents” or “biological parents” or—in the case of a gestational surrogate—as the “gestating mother.” These terms are still somewhat problematic and contested—in part because we usually give so much responsibility to anybody identified as a parent—but it is fair to say that the legal system, the fertility industry, and much of society now recognize the social parents as the legitimate parents and release the donors and surrogates from any parental rights and responsibilities.

Now, Fukuyama and Furger warn, “There are a number of technologies emerging that will make possible the creation of children who are not the offspring of one man and one woman, as every human child has been up to now in the history of our species.” The problem for Fukuyama and Furger is apparently not that these technologies introduce the need for a distinction between biological or genetic parents on the one hand and legal or social parents on the other. The problem is that the child will have been created by combining genetic material from persons other than one man and one woman.

An example of such a technology that is already in use is ooplasm transfer, a technique employed to circumvent problems in some women’s eggs that involves replacing the nucleus of a donor’s egg with the nucleus of another woman’s egg (usually the intended mother’s). The egg is then fertilized with sperm (usually from the intended father) and the embryo is transferred for gestation. Any child born will have received genetic material from three people: the man whose sperm fertilized [End...


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pp. 28-31
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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Archived 2012
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