Monday, December 15, 2008

Men obsolete in test-tube world

Men are biologically vulnerable in the new world of reproduction.

It is a world where deaf people select deaf babies and where scientists ''mix'' animals and humans.

And it is much closer to reality than many may think.

Academic lawyer Baroness Ruth Deech described the landscape of modern reproduction in a public lecture yesterday at the Australian National University's college of law.

Baroness Deech was the first chairwoman of Britain's reproduction technology regulatory body, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority.

She said one day reproduction technology might allow women to grow their own sperm.
''Who needs men?'' she joked during her lecture.

''I'm awfully sorry to any young men here... biologically you're on the way out. It would therefore be a good idea to make yourselves attractive and useful around the house.''

Baroness Deech talked about Britain's new Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act and what it would mean for reproduction.

The new law would allow scientists to take an egg from an animal such as a cow and implant human DNA into the egg.

The move sparked demonstrations outside Parliament.

''The public got the idea that someone was going to grow half man, half animal,'' Baroness Deech said.

''That's not the case. We're talking about an egg and a sperm so small that the human eye can't see it. It's only for research and it can only be kept 14 days.

''That will allow much more research to go ahead, because there will be a greater supply of animal eggs which can be used to study the growth of the human body and disease.''

Baroness Deech drew criticism from deaf lobby groups after voicing her concerns about deaf people choosing an embryo that would result in a deaf baby.
''I thought that was outrageous,'' Baroness Deech said.

A case in Canada involved a deaf, same-sex couple who advertised for a man who had five generations of deafness in his family. They used his sperm with the partner who had four generations of deafness, and had two deaf children.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the birth of the world's first in-vitro fertilisation baby, Louise Brown.

''IVF and embryology go to the heart of all our feelings, conscious and subconscious about parenthood, about new life, about what we're here for,'' Baroness Deech said. ''When Louise Brown was born in 1978, this amazing event caused shock, surprise, elation in some quarters, but also great fears. I think it's hard for us to remember now just how shocking it was.''

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