Unborn Mothers?

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A team of researchers from Israel and the Netherlands have taken a bold step that could help infertile woman by increasing the short supply of human donor eggs: harvesting the eggs from aborted fetal tissue. With the parents' permission, the team surgically removed developing ovaries from seven aborted fetuses aged between 22 and 33 weeks, and bathed them in a hormone cocktail designed to stimulate ovarian maturation. Although the follicles that eventually produce eggs would normally remain inactive until puberty, in this case they began to secrete the female hormone oestradiol after four weeks in the test-tube—a sign that they were maturing. Team leader Dr. Tal Biron-Shental from Meir Hospital in Kfar Saba, Israel, says her aim is to provide infertile women with a steady supply of donor eggs for in-vitro fertilization, but admits the technology is only in its earliest stages. It has, however, already produced baby mice.

Many in the medical community are skeptical of the science and consider the research unethical. It makes more sense, they say, to harvest eggs from willing adult women, although the procedures are expensive and time-consuming. The ethical problems have already been addressed: a panel of British experts declared in 1994 that being derived from aborted fetal tissue would be psychologically damaging to any child. As Executive Director of the American Infertility Association Pamela Madsena says, "no one should reproduce against their will, or without their knowledge or consent. How can an unborn fetus consent to reproduce?"