A groundbreaking fertilization experiment in which mice produced “motherless” offspring has been making waves online for almost a month now — and for good reason. In the experiment, scientists successfully bypassed the fertilization of an egg and created embryos by fusing sperm with cells derived from skin or other tissue. That’s groundbreaking stuff and it has been heralded as such by numerous media outlets, but those same publications have been quick to harp on one of the potential uses for this procedure: helping gay men conceive children together using two sets of DNA. That’s certainly an interesting thought experiment, but before we have a parade, it’s worth considering a few questions about the application of this scientific breakthrough and what it doesn’t mean.
Do gay couples even want babies?
Perhaps the desire to have children is not as prevalent as we might think among gay couples. The right for gay couples to adopt, for example, has been a major and necessary focus point in gay activism, but the assumption that gay men —especially younger gay men — want to have children at all is predicated on the idea that they’ve been waiting for permission to start heteronormative nuclear families. Providing gay men with the option to have children is obviously great, but assuming they’ll want to is a reach that stems from the notion that gayness is just a funhouse mirror version of straightness. Sometimes it is. More often, it isn’t.
Will this enable further misogyny within the gay community?
Excluding women from the fertility process could potentially be harmful to women. The cisgender gay community already grapples with the specific kind of misogyny that comes from not being attracted to women and removing them from the equation is an invitation for further dismissal. Of course gay dads will still need to borrow a uterus, but that’s a different ask than including a woman’s genetic input. The equation changes.
Will this hurt women?
It’s easy to forget that gay men are part of patriarchal society, but if they end up leading the charge to eliminate women from the reproductive process, people will remember in a big old hurry.
What of the economics?
Molecular embryologist from the University of Bath Dr. Tony Perry said that the possibility of these results manifesting in human men is “entirely speculative and fanciful,” but it still seems like the kind of procedure that would be extremely expensive if it were to ever become certified practice. The costs of adoption and surrogacy deplete bank accounts as it is, and this extra fancy way of doing things would likely be the most costly procedure yet. All that money for gay couples to make their own babies only to break it to the child later in life that they can’t afford anything because they spent all of it on combining their DNA.
Are we creating potential divisions?
It’s important to emphasize the “speculative and fanciful” aspect to this experiment, but that doesn’t mean we can’t speculate about what the future would be like if this became a thing. I have this dystopian vision brewing in which a major rift forms between those who were conceived by traditional methods and those who were conceived by fusing sperm and skin cells with the so-called “egg babies” disparaging the “skin cell babies” for their scientifically-manipulated entry into the world. Perhaps you’re thinking we could never descend into such pettiness, but given our history of ostracizing people who are different, it doesn’t seem too far off.
Photos via Flickr/Anne Worner