Report from the ACL (Australian Christian Lobby)
"This is man at his maddest. I think that sometimes we have to stop meddling and accept infertility. Science must be totally ethical and totally safe – this is neither."
This was the clear response of Josephine Quintavalle, director of Comment on Reproductive Ethics, to recent news that human sperm has been created in a science laboratory for the first time.
Researchers at the Northeast England Stem Cell Institute, which includes Newcastle and Durham Universities and Newcastle Hospital, claim they made the ‘breakthrough’ using stem cells from an embryo. With some minor changes they claim the sperm could fertilise an egg to create a child, allowing infertile couples to parent their own genetic child.
The use of embryos in research is already controversial, but this ‘development’ is doubly disturbing – the scientists believe their technique could be used in future to create sperm from female stem cells, which would allow a woman to have a baby without a man.
The results of the experiment, which were published in the Stem Cells and Development journal, are being touted by the researchers as a development in infertility treatment. Although the scientists do not believe that their created sperm should be used to impregnate women, possible future misuse of their technique poses obvious ethical challenges.
Media reports about the creation of the world’s first laboratory sperm can be found here and here. The Stem Cell Institute have also produced a media release and published a video explaining the technique, which are available here.
Dr David van Gend, national director of Australians for Ethical Stem Cell Research, strongly condemned the exploitation of a dead embryo to create the sperm, writing on his “No Human Cloning – Do No Harm” blog that:
"If there is any medical value in learning to create sperm from stem cells – and there are some arguable uses – then this objective could have been met in an ethically uncontentious way: the sperm could equally well be created from non-embryonic stem cells.”
You can read more of Dr van Gend’s response to the news from Britain by clicking here.