Test tubes

An ethics expert is warning that the scientific possibility of lab-grown people, following a claim by Japanese scientists to have created immature human eggs from stem cells, poses a “profound violation” of marriage.

The Catholic News Agency reported the comments of John Brehany, a Catholic bioethicist and director of institutional relations at the National Catholic Bioethics Center.

“Such knowledge and power could be used for good ends, achieved with ethical means,” he explained. “For example, scientists could build on this sophisticated expertise in stem cell science to create human organs for transplantation or to cure major diseases.”

But there is a dark side, he warned.

“Given the significant of the human desire for procreation, the lust for power, it appears likely that scientists will try to use this technology to engage in truly artificial human reproduction.”

The CNA report by Kevin Jones said a team of Japanese scientists “used a common method to transform adult human blood cells into inducted pluripotent stem cells,” because they have the capacity to become other human cells.

National Public Radio reported the eggs “are far too immature to be fertilized or make a baby.”

“And much more research would be needed to create eggs that could be useful – and safe – for human reproduction. But the work … is seen by other scientists as an important development.”

UCLA biologist Amander Clark said the procedure might someday help millions of people suffering from infertility.

But the report also warned of the admitted possibility that, using the procedure, someone who create a baby from the skin cells left behind on a soda can or hair follicles.

“A woman might want to have George Clooney’s baby,” warned Dartmouth bioethicist Ronald Green. “And his hairdresser could start selling his hair follicles online. So we suddenly could see many, many progeny of George Clooney without his consent.”

NPR reported that in 2012 researchers at Kyoto University said they made mature mouse eggs and sperm from stem cells and then created healthy mouse pups. But the attempts on human biology so far have failed.

Brehany said the latest reports are “evidence of a major advance in biotechnology prowess.”

But he said it also revealed the desire to exert much more control over the reproductive process.

“It’s the beginning of a paradigm change,” Kyle Orwig, a professor in the department of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, was quoted in the CNA report.

“This would be a major change even if practiced only by a small group of individuals. In principle, this would be a profound violation of marriage and marital love,” Brehany warned.

He explained to CNA it is important to note the procedure does not reverse infertility, it just provides another option for such couples.

And he said there is little information available yet over how many human embryos would be “killed by being discarded or would be subject to additional assaults on their dignity by being made the subject of lab testing” as part of the process.

Brehany pointed out Catholic teaching is that the “greatest goods” of human persons, like marriage, marital love and procreation, must be “treated with the greatest respect,” CNA reported.

“How we respect such goods is a matter of significant principle. Once we violate or misuse them, then it is harder to treat them as they deserve, and the negative impacts on the innocent human beings are immense,” he said.

Catholic doctrine states, “The origin of human life has its authentic context in marriage and in the family, where it is generated through an act which expresses the reciprocal love between a man and a woman … human procreation is a personal act of a husband and wife, which is not capable of substitution.”

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