Letter: Our links to the long chain of genetic evolution

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The Independent Online
Sir: The Archbishop of York's discussion of 'Where should babies come from?' (11 January) is welcome. To Christians, having 'a dead foetus as a genetic mother' is offensive, as life is seen as a series of discontinuous lives. Some commentators have called the process 'yucky', but as a biologist such a possibility reminds me how my brief life is one link in 2 billion years of genetic evolution based on slowly changing messages coded in a potentially immortal DNA.

Our diploid (full complement of chromosomes) body sets aside the haploid (half complement of chromosomes essential to sexual reproduction) early in foetal life. That is why an aborted foetus has the potential to provide more eggs for IVF than an adult woman. A child born as the result of fertilising an egg from a foetus has reduced the haploid link in the chain of life from what may be several tens of years to two or three months.

I agree with Dr Habgood that, when discussing IVF, 'the long- term implications for a proper evaluation of our own humanity are profound'; but I do not find the use of eggs from an aborted foetus changes the moral equation concerning this particular technology: indeed, the idea reminds me of the phase of biological life that connects us with all other living creatures on our tiny planet.

Yours sincerely,


London, W8

12 January

The writer holds the Bixby chair in Family Planning and Population at the University of California, Berkeley.