Leading researcher calls for law

Shinya Yamanaka, a leading "stem cell pioneer" was interviewed in New Scientist last December. (subscription required if you want to see it in context of the advertisements, but I'll copy the whole story to the comments for purposes of education and discussion.)

The important thing to note is that he is crying out for society to regulate the use of this technology, he's saying that scientists can't make these decisions on their own, they just see "an opportunity".

Are there any other scenarios that could raise ethical dilemmas?

I'm not sure whether we should try to make eggs from male iPS cells and vice versa. In theory, two men could use this technology to have a baby, because you could take skin cells and use them to make an egg. [...]

Who do you think should be responsible for deciding what is ethically acceptable?

These are very difficult decisions, and I think that society should make them. It should not be scientists. They can find it difficult to think like the person on the street, and instead may see it simply as a good opportunity. We scientists can be involved in the decision-making process, but I think unless society is comfortable with the therapy it should not go ahead.

"Female sperm and gay guinea pigs"

That's the title of a great op-ed in SFGate, online home of the San Francisco Chronicle. Some key passages:
Like reproductive cloning, efforts to use female sperm or other artificial gametes would mean starting with biological materials that have not been produced by evolutionary dynamics to participate in reproduction. In human beings, this would be an extraordinarily high-risk gamble. As researchers and others have concluded in speculation about human reproductive cloning, the very investigations that would be required to try to improve the safety of female-sperm reproduction in human beings would amount to unethical human experimentation.
What's going on here? Why are speculative and risky technologies being held out to lesbians and gay men as tantalizing prospects? Are reproductive methods that amount to dangerous experimentation on their children really a road to freedom for gay families? Or is the language of equality and empowerment being used to justify human experimentation that puts these children at great risk?

Anti-gay sentiment is not caused by the inability of same-sex couples to have biologically related children, but by fear and intolerance. The solutions to homophobia will not be found in test tubes and Petri dishes, but in challenging and changing our laws, policies and culture. Our resources are far better spent advocating for equal access to existing means of family building, legal protections for gay parents and children, and full social acceptance of diverse kinds of families.

Of course, any assisted reproduction techniques that are safe and ethical for heterosexuals should also be available for gays. But the obverse is also true: Reproductive methods that are not safe enough for straight people shouldn't be promoted to gays and lesbians. Gay families should not be made into guinea pigs for techno-enthusiasts interested in extreme forms of human experimentation.


New Leon Kass article

Leon Kass, the original Chairman of President's Council On Bioethics which inspired this blog 's name with their 2004 report recommending a federal "Egg and Sperm law", has written an update on the progress, or lack thereof, in The Weekly Standard.

Particularly reassuring is that Dr. Kass is now clarifying his view that the egg and sperm should come from a man and a woman. Readers may recall I was concerned that the Council was leaving the door open for same-sex couples to use "female sperm" or "male eggs", and perhaps there were members of the Council that were indeed insistent on leaving out the sex-specific language. But here he is able to speak on his own, and makes it clear that all people should have one mother and one father:
Second, we should call for a legislative ban on all attempts to conceive a child save by the union of egg and sperm (both taken from adults). This would ban human cloning to produce children, but also other egregious forms of baby making that would deny children a link to two biological parents, one male and one female, both adults.

This is great news, and the rest of the article is very good news as well, because apparently things are coming together that make this year a great opportunity to accomplish these goals.