Meet Mom, Mom and Mom: is there anything wrong with same-sex genetic parents?

The Daily Mail reports on a New Scientist article about the possibilities of same-sex reproduction. Researchers at Newcastle upon Tyne have coaxed stem cells in male bone marrow to developing  into spermatogonia, which in turn have been coaxed to divide into sperm cells. According to New Scientist they may have succeeded in producing spermatogonia from female marrow, and are now working on the final step to turn them into sperm. In that case it would be possible for two women to be the genetic parents of a child. Other research aims at turning skin cells into eggs, which could allow two males to be genetic parents of a child (with the help of a surrogate mother). While the research aims at helping infertility the obvious possibility is same-sex parenthood. Is it a good idea to create kids with two or three moms, or two dads and a mom?

There are obvious risks that the treatment of the cells could produce
damage that would impair the health of the child. That will remain the
strongest argument against such procedures for a long time and a strong deterrent from human application.

Another relevant objection is that there may be simpler solutions to
infertility. While most people prefer to have a genetically related
child adoption is clearly always a possibility and has historically
been quite successful.

The UN 1994 ICPD Programme of Action defines the capability to reproduce as part of reproductive health and
hence plausibly as a human right. However, it is unclear whether this is a
positive right (it would be wrong not to assist a couple seeking to
reproduce) or just a negative right (it would be wrong to prevent a
couple from reproducing if they had the means to do so). Given that
positive rights easily produce absurd consequences and the good
they promote can usually be provided e.g. through democratically
decided health care rules, it makes most sense to regard the right to
reproduce as a negative right. How strong efforts to combat infertility
should be is up to medical decisionmakers and the public to decide.

It may be that stem cell techniques for reproduction are simply too
costly to be part of public health: there are better things to spend
money and effort on. It should be noted that the current research
itself is likely well-spent money, since it provides a greater
understanding of development that may be helpful for a variety of
conditions, besides increasing scientific understanding.

A far less relevant, but quite common, objection is that children need
male and female role models. Whether this is actually true is an
empirical question; the evidence currently does not appear to suggest
any significant difference between children in same-sex couples and
others
. However, even if it turned out that there were disadvantages for the
children these disadvantages would need to be significant in
order to override the above right to reproduce. If the disadvantages
were so significant that they were a good argument against allowing
reproduction in the same-sex case they would also be an argument against allowing single
parenting. It seems more practical, if lack of role models truly were a
problem, to put effort into providing role models in non-parental roles.

Risk, efficiency and social integration are likely not the core
concerns of critics of this technology, but  whether enabling new forms
of parenthood threatens important human or societal values. In a
pluralist liberal democracy there is always going to be someone with a
different value system, and society must respect this to the extent
that the values do not lead to breaches of human rights. The key issue
is hence whether some important right of the child is broken by being born to
same-sex parents. While there have been arguments against reproduction
technology on the grounds that it decreases autonomy or respect by
making the child an object of design, having a both genetic father and
mother is not itself a right. Children have a right have parents and to
be loved by their parents, but that does not imply that the parents
have to be natural parents – or of particular genders.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit

Comments are closed.

Authors

Subscribe Via Email

Affiliations