A new fertility test may help women push back childbearing later still:

Pamela Barbasetti di Prun, 45, a mother of three grown children from her first marriage, wanted to try to have a baby with her second husband. When her FSH levels came back elevated, signaling her fertility was on the wane, her doctor suggested the Staten Island, N.Y., couple consider an egg donor. They balked and, in February, Ms. Barbasetti di Prun’s AMH level came back normal. Hopeful that she could have a baby with her own eggs, the couple is moving ahead with in vitro fertilization. Two weeks ago, doctors retrieved 10 eggs — a better-than-expected number for a woman her age.

“The AMH test was an extremely valuable tool in giving us an accurate number to guide us,” Ms. Barbasetti di Prun says. “You’re going to do what your heart tells you, but to have some medical substantiation really helps you.”

Dr. Seifer, her physician, says that because of her healthy AMH levels, he was “willing to let her try” IVF with her own eggs.

The London Times science editor defends the use of artificial gametes:

Cells from an infertile man or woman would first be reprogrammed into an embryonic state, or used to make cloned embryonic stem cells. The resulting stem cells would then be turned into sperm or eggs, which would carry the patient’s DNA. Many of those this technology would benefit have survived childhood cancers, diagnosed when they were too young to freeze sperm or eggs to preserve fertility. Others are women who have suffered the distress of early menopause. This is medical science at its compassionate best.

Not everybody, however, has seen it quite like that. Whenever new developments in this field are reported, they invariably prompt speculation that the technique might be used to allow lesbians to produce sperm, and gay men eggs. Homosexual couples might thus have a child with genetic material from both partners, in a way that is unthinkable in nature. Worried discussions about what this might mean for sexual politics often drown out dialogue on the benefits for infertile patients.

I have more to say about this article (when I’m not on deadline), but it’s more than a little frustrating. I will say though that I predicted this line of argument in my review of Debora Spar’s book, The Baby Business:

Spar warns that today’s widespread moral opposition to cloning may erode if the technique is adopted by ordinary couples seeking to fulfill the most ordinary human desires. Spar gives the example of a couple in which the male partner is incapable of producing sperm. Scientists could remove another cell from his body and inject its nucleus into his wife’s enucleated egg, thereby producing a child with only his DNA. In other words: the husband’s clone, their child, born of the wife’s nine-month labor.

Moreover, cloning is not the only radical technical possibility now looming. For example, a homosexual couple might one day conceive a child born of their united genomes by creating a cloned embryo of one partner, harvesting its stem cells, turning the stem cells into sperm or eggs, and combining these artificial gametes with the natural gametes of the other partner to produce an embryo for implantation.

By these various (still hypothetical) routes, the moral challenge may come from the “eminently respectable”—from the desperate would-be parents unable to have a child and the willing doctors working to make their dreams possible. As with the initial controversy over IVF, critics of cloning will be accused of being heartless. As one infertile woman tells Spar, “When you take away being able to have a child biologically, it is like having to face death—almost like having half of you die … because having kids is the main way that people deal with the fact that they are mortal.” Another says, “I know [cloning is] not right for everyone. But … if the only way for a person to have a child of their own is to do this, and if they are willing to take the chance, than they should be able to.” Once the first healthy-looking clone is born to loving parents, being anti-cloning will seem anti-child.


April 22, 2008