How reproductive technology is changing what it means to be a parent

Four or more parents?

There are other technologies on the horizon that could allow even more people to share the parenthood of a child. Scientists are working to turn human skin and blood cells into egg and sperm cells in the lab. They did this in mice. If they can manage to do it in humans, the possibility of biological parenting will expand even further.

The first application will be to allow same-sex couples to have genetically related children. For example, you can turn a man’s skin into egg cells and fertilize his partner’s sperm to create an embryo.

But you can also use the same technology to make another sperm or egg cell from that embryo. In theory, you could do this with sex cells from two couples, eventually creating an embryo with four genetic contributing factors.

Things get even more confusing here, because the four adults will actually be grandparents, and the embryo created in the middle step will be the baby’s parents. Some scientists have said that, technically, these babies will be born orphans. But the way others see it, they will have four parents.

Of course, a real genetic connection isn’t what makes someone a parent. The parent is not the provider of the DNA — it’s the person who takes care of the child and provides the environment in which they thrive.

You don’t have to be the biological parent of a child to do this. That’s obvious, but it’s also backed up by data collected by Vasanti Jadva, at University College London. Jadva and her colleagues followed the progress of 223 babies born around 2000. While 80 children were conceived in the conventional way, 51 by egg donation, 50 were conceived. by donating sperm and 42 children being surrogate. But there was no real difference in the children’s happiness throughout their childhood.

By age two, donor and surrogacy children showed no difference in social, emotional, or cognitive development. If anything, they seem to have a more positive relationship with their parents than those perceived in the conventional way.

And they weren’t particularly bothered about the circumstances of their conception, either. Jadva said at the meeting in Amsterdam, when they were 21, most of them were not interested in being born through egg, sperm donation or surrogacy.


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