New lab-grown sperm not a moral solution to male infertility
August 5, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Yesterday, news of the first successful production of healthy mice offspring using sperm from embryonic stem cells was published. The Science Magazine characterized the research as suggesting “possible avenues for the development of fertility treatments.”
Researchers, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) recounted, have tried “for years to make sperm and eggs in a dish with limited success and some controversy.” In 2003, the transformation of mouse embryonic stem cells into both sperm and eggs by several scientists did not lead to successful pregnancies. In 2006, a team of scientists produced six mice using lab-grown sperm, but, the WSJ noted, “the animals suffered genetic abnormalities and all died early.”
In 2009, Newcastle University researchers announced the creation of human sperm in a test tube. Their paper would be retracted, the WSJ reported, “weeks later amid charges of plagiarism.”
The Science Magazine coverage of yesterday’s news included word that the technique in question “requires the use of viruses that can trigger tumors” (http://the-scientist.com/2011/08/04/lab-grown-sperm/).
The National Catholic Bioethics Center’s Director of Education and Ethicist Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk spoke with LifeSiteNews regarding the significance of yesterday’s news.
“The development of ‘laboratory grown’ sperm, like many developments in biotechnology, will have applications that will be either moral or immoral, depending on the particulars of how it is deployed,” Father Pacholczyk began. He suggested that the research on animals may lead to treatments which aid in human sperm production.
He explained however that any ethical procedure to treat male infertility would by necessity leave the ‘marital embrace’ intact as the cause of conception, as opposed to a procedure of in vitro fertilization or artificial insemination.
“If normal sperm production were to be initiated by using a morally acceptable substitute for embryonic stem cells (like induced pluripotent stem cells, which would be made from the adult skin cells of the infertile man), and the man could then conceive a child in the marital embrace with his wife, the process would appear to be ethically acceptable,” Pacholczyk said. “It would be an instance of assisting the marital act to achieve its proper finality, rather than replacing the act with another kind of act.”