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Posted on April 18, 2008 at 1:34 AM

The possibility of sperm or eggs being created from pluripotent stem cells has been a hot topic of discussion in Britain over the last few months. The subject’s come up as part of the broader debate about the upcoming vote on the UK’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology bill. (The Britsh press has tagged these stem-cell-derived gametes with the modifier “artificial.”) Sperm and eggs created in this manner could potentially open new avenues for treating infertility. They also could allow same-sex couples to produce children biologically related to both partners. But skeptics warn the technique could also lead to what one British interest group called “the ultimate incest”: one person supplying both egg and sperm for a child.

The Hinxton Group, “an informal collection of individuals interested in ethical and well-regulated science,” released a consensus statement (pdf) recently about sperm and eggs derived from pluripotent stem cells. The paper includes a look at some of the social implications of these gametes, as well as a handful of recommendations. Here’s one of them:

Societies have the authority to regulate science, and scientists have a responsibility to obey the law. However, policy makers should refrain from interfering with scientific inquiry unless there is substantial justification for doing so that reaches beyond disagreements based solely on divergent moral convictions. Any interference with scientific inquiry should be derived from reasonable concerns about demonstrable risks of harm to persons, societal institutions, or society as a whole. In the case of PSC-derived gametes, as with all science, it is important to target policy specifically to those dimensions of the research or its applications that have proved to be unacceptable, and that these policies be proportionate to the magnitude of what is morally at stake.

The heart of the paper is only three pages long and it’s a quick way to get up to speed on this topic.

-Greg Dahlmann

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