The author was commissioned by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics to write this paper in order to inform the Council’s discussions about possible future work on this topic. The paper is intended to provide an overview of key clinical, ethical, social, legal and policy issues, but is not intended to offer any conclusions or recommendations regarding future policy and practice. Any views expressed in the paper are the author’s own and not those of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics.
Dr Anna Smajdor, Lecturer in Ethics, Norwich Medical School, University of East Anglia
Dr Daniela Cutas, Associate Professor of Practical Philosophy, Department of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies, Umeå University, Sweden
In 2003-4, several research groups published work on the derivation of gamete type cells from mouse embryonic stem cells (ESCs). Further reports emerged in 2004-5, based on research on human ESCs. Since these initial developments, researchers have continued to work on the creation of gametes, and their use in research and reproduction may become feasible in the future. It has been suggested that these developments could ‘democratise reproduction’, and even ‘end infertility’. In this report, we show how the development of artificial gametes has progressed and discuss the motivations of these research endeavours, and the ethical issues that they raise. It is necessary to highlight the fact that much of this discussion is necessarily speculative. Artificial gametes are in the process of development and as with any other area of scientific research, it may be that there is a sudden breakthrough much earlier than anticipated. Alternatively, AGs may never come into use, for reasons that are not yet apparent to us. What is clear is that there is ongoing research, yielding incremental advances, and the development and use of AGs in human reproduction and research is deemed plausible by credible commentators, including for example the UK’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, as we will discuss later on in the paper.