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Recent breakthroughs in stem cell differentiation and reprogramming suggest that functional human gametes could soon be created in vitro. While the ethical debate on the uses of in vitro generated gametes (IVG) was originally constrained by the fact that they could be derived only from embryonic stem cell lines, the advent of somatic cell reprogramming, with the possibility to easily derive human induced pluripotent stem cells from any individual, affords now a major leap in the feasibility of IVG derivation and in the scope of their potential applications. In this paper we develop an ethical framework, rooted in recent scientific evidence, to support a robust experimental pipeline that could enable the first-in-human use of IVG. We then apply this framework to the following objectives: (1) a clarification of the genetic parenting options afforded by IVG, along with their ethical underpinnings; (2) a defence of the use of IVG to remedy infertility, broadening their scope to same-sex couples; (3) an assessment of the most far-reaching implications of IVG for multiplex parenting. These include, first, the liberation of parenting roles from the constraints of biological generations in vivo, allowing multiple individuals to engage in genetic parenting together, thus blurring the distinction between biological and social generations. Second, we discuss the conflation of IVG with sequencing technology and its implications for the possibility that prospective parents may choose among a hitherto unprecedented number of potential children. In view of these perspectives, we argue that, contrary to the exhausted paradigm according to which society lags behind science, IVG may represent instead a salient and most visible instance where biotechnological ingenuity could be used in pursuit of social experimentation.

Original publication

DOI

10.1136/medethics-2013-101810

Type

Journal article

Journal

J Med Ethics

Publication Date

11/2014

Volume

40

Pages

752 - 758

Keywords

artificial gametes, in vitro produced gametes, multiplex parenting, stem-cell derived gametes, synthetic gametes, Biotechnology, Female, Homosexuality, Homosexuality, Female, Human Experimentation, Humans, In Vitro Techniques, Infertility, Male, Morals, Parenting, Prospective Studies, Sequence Analysis, DNA, Spermatozoa, Stem Cell Research