Letter: Ageing mothers, fatherless children

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Sir: One striking aspect of the controversy over human reproductive technology is that the techniques involved have been developed in laboratory animals and that many, such as superovulation and embryo implantation, have already found widespread application on the factory farm.

A lesson to emerge from these controversies appears to be that if you can do it with an animal then someone, somewhere will eventually try and do it with a human.

Debate over the possible use of eggs from aborted human foetuses has arisen directly from experiments involving the transplanting of eggs from foetal mice. Researchers at Edinburgh are also reported to have grafted pre-ovarian cells from aborted rat foetuses into ageing white rats, allowing them to grow new ovaries. It has been claimed that applying this technique to humans could delay the menopause for up to 20 years.

In Japan, a 120-day-old goat foetus was kept alive in an artificial rubber uterus for 17 days, after being removed from its mother's womb. More recently Japanese scientists have been experimenting with parthenogenesis - producing offspring from unfertilised eggs. Cattle embryos produced in this way, at the University of Yamaguchi, have been used to establish pregnancy in three cows. The birth of the world's first 'fatherless' calves is now awaited.

Is this what the future holds for us, too - fatherless reproduction in an artificial womb? It is time that we started paying more attention to the ethics of not just human reproduction but of animal research as well.

Yours sincerely,

M. EAMES

Head of Information

British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection

London, N7

5 January

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