Brendan P. Fohtís Latest New Atlantis Articles

 While Bioethics Fiddles” (Winter 2019)

 Responsible Frankensteins?” (Winter 2018)

 Human Gene Editing Arrives in America” (July 28, 2017)

 Gene Editing: New Technology, Old Moral Questions” (Winter 2016)


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While Bioethics Fiddles 

Brendan P. Foht

As baby manufacturing draws near, academic ethicists play frivolous games

Last September saw the announcement from scientists of the first manufacture of human egg cells in the lab. As surprising as it may sound, the creation in a lab of human sex cells using stem cells has been in the works for over a decade, with earlier experiments succeeding in deriving primordial germ cells, the cells of an early embryo that eventually give rise to sperm and egg cells.

In the past, embryonic stem cells were used for these experiments. But researchers have begun to favor a relatively recent innovation: induced pluripotent stem cells, which have essentially the same properties as embryonic stem cells but are created by manipulating ordinary adult cells rather than by destroying embryos. For reproductive applications, creating egg or sperm cells using stem cells taken from adult patients would be more desirable than using embryonic stem cells, since patients would be able to use the resulting cells to make children genetically related to themselves, rather than to destroyed embryos.

Despite the apparent breakthrough, it will be years yet before lab-created sex cells are ready for use in human reproduction. But the development nonetheless raises the question of whether it is a milestone on the road toward a world of dramatic technical powers over human reproduction — a world of cloning, designer babies, and children with four genetic parents. Indeed, a phalanx of prophets have for years been eagerly awaiting this very news.

A century after the heyday of eugenics, morally obtuse advocates for human enhancement, along with a collection of libertarians and assorted cranks, continue to hold out hope for its return in a redeemed form, one that is voluntary and medical rather than state-controlled and racist....

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Brendan P. Foht is associate editor of The New Atlantis.

Brendan P. Foht, "While Bioethics Fiddles," The New Atlantis, Number 57, Winter 2019, pp. 26-35.