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Reproductive technologies, risk, enhancement and the value of genetic relatedness
  1. Robert Sparrow
  1. Correspondence to Dr Robert Sparrow, Faculty of Arts, Department of Philosophy, Monash University, Clayton, VIC 3800, Australia; robert.sparrow{at}monash.edu

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Introduction

In ‘in vitro eugenics’ (IVE), I outlined a theoretical use of a technology of artificial gametogenesis, wherein repeated iterations of the derivation of gametes from embryonic stem cells, followed by the fusion of gametes to create new embryos, from which new stem cells could be derived, would allow researchers to create multiple generations of human embryos in the laboratory and also to produce ‘enhanced’ human beings with desired traits.1 As a number of commentators observed, my purpose in publishing this paper was to provoke ethical discussion of a largely unremarked upon technological possibility and surrounding issues. Even if this was, as Murphy2 observes archly, to aim ‘low’, discussion of IVE is valuable for three reasons. First, it may render us better prepared should IVE become practical. I noted of my original discussion that it was speculative and several of the respondents suggest that IVE is even less likely to come about than I allowed there. Nevertheless, second, discussion of IVE is valuable for what it reveals about the ethics of new reproductive technologies (NRTs) more generally and, third, about the ethics of genetic human enhancement in particular. The responses to my paper demonstrate this nicely by (a) illustrating the selective way in which arguments about risk are mobilised in debates about NRTs and (b) highlighting the tension between any obligation of ‘procreative beneficence’ and a concern for genetic relatedness. Even if IVE should never be pursued, then, discussion of this possibility may help us better understand the ethics of other NRTs and means of genetic human enhancement.

Before moving to these topics, however, let me address a number of concerns raised by the commentaries which do relate solely to IVE.

The science, name, ethics and utility of ‘in vitro eugenics’

Da Fonseca et al3 are mistaken in suggesting that it would be necessary for researchers to …

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