Pro-choice ethicists: OK to use aborted baby’s ovaries to create new children

Cross-posted from Secular ProLife

Foetal tissue harvesting and experimentation on aborted babies are logical outgrowths of the pro-choice position. After all, if unborn babies are mere “tissue,” then there is no need to respect their remains.

But some proposals of what to do with those remains are truly bizarre – and deeply disturbing.

In an article titled “Transplantation of Aborted Fetal Ova: a Short Analysis” that was published in The Wanderer on August 4, 1994, author Lawrence Roberges described grisly experiments done by Dr. Robert Gosden of Edinburgh University. Dr. Gosden proposed harvesting the egg cells from the bodies of female aborted babies and using them for in vitro fertilization, as well as implanting ovarian tissue from aborted babies into the ovaries infertile women. He has had success with this process in mice. What the experiments would entail is obtaining female aborted babies from clinics (increasing clinic revenue), then slicing open the aborted children’s ovaries (ovaries actually start developing in the first trimester) and harvesting their eggs. The article went on to describe experiments he has done on mice:

A paper written by Dr. Gosden in the April 1992 Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics reviews the outline of this research a full two years before his research proposal became news. This paper bases his proposal on prior work in which Dr. Gosden has extensively performed mouse fetal tissue transplants studies to restore the fertility of sterile mice. These studies included using mice fetal tissue to restore fertility to sterile mice, restore endocrine function to mice without ovaries, and freezing and storing mouse fetal ovarian tissue for later successful implantation. Dr. Gosden’s work promises to harvest eggs from aborted fetuses at the 12 to 16 week stage. They would then fertilize the eggs by in vitro methods and implant them into previously sterile women.… it would restore the fertility of women who have prematurely undergone menopause, thereby giving them extended years of childbearing.

Can you imagine going through life knowing that your mother was an aborted baby? The prospect is deeply disturbing. Many adopted children grow up wondering what their birth parents were like, but I cannot even begin to imagine how a person would come to terms with the fact that their mother never drew a breath outside the womb. It leads to all kinds of disturbing and macabre thinking.

In the Journal of Medical Ethics, Jonathan M. Berkowitz, a supporter of Gosden’s proposal, sidestepped the issue:

Certainly there may be many emotions associated with the knowledge of being conceived outside sexual intercourse… [A] study concluded that “the majority [of children produced via IVF] were performing above the norm for the chronological age but were subject to a “significantly higher incidence of… behavioral and emotional problems.

Jonathan M Berkowitz, “Mummy Was a Fetus: Motherhood and Fetal Ovarian Transplantation” Journal of Medical Ethics 21:298 – 304 (October 1995).

Of course, knowing that your mother was an aborted baby is very different from knowing that you were conceived through in vitro fertilization. It’s hard to understand how he does not see the difference.

The New York Times summarized Fletcher’s argument:

Dr. John Fletcher [an ethicist at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville] said most of the ethical qualms  pale beside the good that can be done for infertile couples. For example, he said, even though a child might be troubled to learn that its genetic mother was an aborted fetus the child would almost certainly rather have been born from the fetus’s eggs than not to have been born at all. “The idea that you would be filled with self-loathing if 50% of your genes are from the ova of an abortus seems to me highly questionable,” he said.

Questionable? Really? It is questionable that knowing that your mother was an aborted baby (or, as he says, “abortus,” a dehumanizing term if I’ve ever heard one) would be traumatic and disturbing? I can’t imagine any human being not being affected by the horror of this type of beginning. The psychological ramifications are enormous – and so are the social ones. What would America be like if it were socially acceptable for people to be born with an aborted baby for a birth mother? It reminds one of the society portrayed in the book Brave New World.

One might think that the concept of harvesting fetal ovaries for future implantation in women and extracting fetal eggs for in vitro fertilization would be just an aberrant idea that would be quickly forgotten. But in 2003, BBC News described experiments with aborted babies’ ovaries taking place in Israel:

The lead researcher, Dr Tal Biron-Shental, from Meir Hospital in Kfar Saba, Israel, conceded that the concept of taking egg follicles from an aborted baby was controversial.

Presenting the work to the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology conference in Madrid, she said: “I’m fully aware of the controversy about this – but probably, in some place, will be ethically acceptable.”

It is hard to suppress a shudder when imagining a society that would condone this way of creating children. Dr. Biron-Shental went on to describe the benefits of her work, saying “There is a shortage of donated oocytes (eggs) for IVF – oocytes from aborted foetuses might provide a new source for these. There are a huge amount of follicles in the foetal ovary.”

Fortunately, Biron-Shental’s work is still in its preliminary stages – no embryos or fetuses have been created using this method – at least as of 2003. But it is deeply disturbing to think about where this research is going. What will the future hold?

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