Tuesday, 3 July 2007

A Question of Science, and Ethics

An interesting news story that I read today ran with the almost gratuitous headline "Girl could give birth to sibling". Incest isn't the order of the day, rather we have a seven year old girl who has a genetic disorder which could (that's right, could) mean that she is infertile. Her mother wants her to lead as normal a life as possible, and to that end has made arrangements for some of her own eggs to be frozen so that if one day she decides to try to have children there are some eggs available which she can use for IVF if she chooses to (that's right, if she chooses to).

Thus, any resulting child would technically be the girl's half-sister.

Some ethics committees think that this is venturing into dangerous territory, and you can understand why in some ways. How should such a child be viewed? The girl's sister or her daughter? The mother's child or her grandchild? What will the child feel? What sense of identity will she have?

These are all important questions to be sure, and interesting ones, but aren't we forgetting the most important point: Aren't all these questions a bit premature? The fertility clinic that will store the eggs has already weighed the arguments on some of these issues and decided to store the eggs, so why is there a huge debate about it still?

Once again people point to science allowing "unnatural" situations, but is it so unnatural to want your children to have a family? We are not talking about a science fiction mad scientist, we are talking about a mother's love for her daughter.

What this all boils down to, surely, is that one day (years from now) if the daughter is infertile and if she decides to try to have a child then her mother has donated some eggs that she could use if she chooses, or she could simply use some other donor eggs. Those are three quite big ifs to be honest: it is possible that she could conceive naturally (Turner syndrome does not mean she will definitely be infertile, and despite some comments on a BBC forum it does not guarantee that she will have profound learning difficulties either); perhaps the daughter will decide that she doesn't want a family at all; maybe the daughter will decide to adopt in order to have a family.

Family. I think that is the most important thing here. The mother has made this provision, after much deliberation herself, because she loves her daughter and is thinking about her future happiness. There are other options if the girl one day wants to have a family, this is just one of them.

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