Fertility with a little help

Artificial Gametes: dynamics and ethics


  • Which applications of in vitro generated gametes do scientists/clinicians consider to be realistically feasible in the next 5-10 years? 
  • What do stakeholders (scientists, clinicians, patient/potential user representatives, social scientists, experts from the humanities, policy makers) consider to be the (moral) pros and cons of developing different types of in vitro generated gametes and of using these for research and treatment. 
  • Exploratory ethical analysis: would it be morally justified, or even morally obligatory, to offer assisted reproduction using in vitro generated gametes to which patients/user groups and on what conditions? 
  • What forms of assisted reproduction using in vitro generated gametes are entitled to societal funding and on what grounds? 
  • How might this emerging technology affect established moral and ethical frameworks; is it possible to say anything about the question whether such change is desirable from a normative point of view; and to what extent should normative concerns influence the development and/or social embedding of this technology?

Duration: January 2012 - December 2013.

In vitro fertilization offers more and more chances to having children for couples who are not able to conceive the natural way. Take for example egg and sperm cells that are grown and developed outside the body, or gametes created from stem cells. These are called artificial gametes. These techniques may possibly give us infinite numbers of gametes that can remedy many couples’ fertility issues. However, this technique also raises ethical questions that are investigated in this project.

First of all this project has given an overview of the current state of the science in this field. It also showed how people that may benefit from this research view it. Finally it has shown the opinion of ethicists on this topic. 

One can read many futuristic stories on artificial gametes on the internet. For example, in the near future it would be possible to create an egg-cell from a male stem cell, by which means homosexual couples would be able to be biological father as well as biological mother of their child. Some scientists support these ideas and cheer the attention it creates for their field of study, while others are sceptical about them.

By consulting the persons involved and scholars in adjacent fields of study such as the humanities, the researcher created an insight in the ethical issues that come with this technology: what is allowed when it comes to embryos and what not? How far do couples want to go? Who should fund this and to what extent?