A report out today from the Butantan institute in Brazil has reported the development of sperm cells from stem cells extracted from the teeth of male donors. The results will be presented officially tomorrow at the European Society of Human reproduction and Embryology meeting in Barcelona, Spain. In this study the researchers isolated stem cells from the extracted teeth of donors and transplanted them into the testes of mice. In this environment the stem cells began developing into human sperm cells.
While these results are preliminary - and not without scientific controversy - they do raise an intriguing possibility. In addition to allowing infertile men to father children, this technique might allow women to "father" children who are genetically their offspring. For example, lesbian couples might be able to donate egg and stem cells (from a tooth or some other source) and parent children that are genetically related to both of them (not just one). The children generated from this union would legally be the responsibility of both women, not just the biological mother (as is the case now). Another possibility might be for a single woman to be both father and mother to her offspring. The child would not be a clone of the parent, there is a significant amount of genetic rearrangement that occurs during sperm development, but they would be more closely related to mom/dad than "normal".
This research may seem a little bit far fetched, but it does represent yet another of the moral/ethical quandaries we have entered (will enter) during the age of freedom of reproductive choice. Hair color, IQ, and freedom from disease aside, the church will need to be ready to respond to this kind of reproductive choice. Would the church raise any ethical issues if a woman decided to be both father and mother? Falling back on the quadrilateral do scripture, tradition, reason, or experience have anything to offer us when investigating this kind of reproductive freedom? Are the questions raised substantially different from the current practices of in vitro fertilization?
Sorry guys - no word yet on generating eggs from your stem cells - at present, they are just far too complex.