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A Higher Education Academy STEM event "Teaching Bioethics:Ethical aspects of innovations in biomedicine" took place at the University of Leicester (UK) in May 2012. In this keynote presentation, Anna Smajdor (University of East Anglia) led reflections on the implications of recent developments in fertility technology.
Since In vitro fertilisation was first introduced in 1978, the potential applications have developed in ways that were not initially envisaged and we have ended up with complications defining “father” and “mother”. Similarly, who is the “patient” when a woman receives medical treatment to deal with the infertility of her partner (and why is this considered a “medical” treatment at all? Development of new technologies has moved way beyond the original expectation that IVF would be used in the context of a traditional family.
New reproductive technologies, she argued, have blurred and stretched the obvious biological definitions of reproduction. For example, single mothers, same-sex couples and women beyond the menopause can all become parents. Preimplantation genetic diagnosis and the notion of saviour siblings allow for a certain degree of selection regarding the characteristics of the future child and we now stand on the brink of gametogenesis where it will be feasible to develop artificial gametes outside of the body.