Handbag babies for the geriatric
Abby OReilly // 20 July 2008
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When the late, great Hunter S Thompson said that “reality is more twisted than fiction” he could not have been more accurate. Imagine a world in which dandruff flakes could be used to cultivate a living human embryo before implanting it into the dusty old uterus of a woman approaching her centennial year. Imagine then that this technology was readily available on the NHS, with the streets filled with waning prune-faced pensioners pushing prams filled with babies made of geriatric skin. Sounds like the synopsis of a lurid work of science fiction doesn’t it? Well, sadly it’s not, and such a reality is only 30 years away, according to a recent article championing the “progressiveness” of science in its determination to extend female fertility.
Advances in germ cell technology mean that it will soon be possible to use skin cells to make sperm and egg cells, which can then be combined to create a human embryo. While allowing women the opportunity to have a baby at any time during their lives, it is also anticipated that treatments using skin cells (known as induced pluripotent stem cells) could replace IVF, allowing parents to have a “designer baby” by specifying the physical characteristics they want their offspring to inherit. Although I understand that this could have some benefits – removing the possibility of a child inheriting a genetic condition or abnormality – should the use of this treatment be condoned in the pursuit of an aesthetic ideal? Or does this reiterate the idea that a baby has become a commodity, something reflective of a couple’s success and genetic supremacy, and as such, like a pair of Manola Blanhiks, would-be parents want the best that their money can buy? It’s unfortunate that the desire for self-perfection has now extended so far that scientists has now seen a niche in the baby-making market to offer the brightest eyes and the rosiest cheeks, and it won’t be long before private clinics are competing for customers, offering two-for-one deals on matching Arian boys and girls, one womb, twice the love etc . (Am I the only one to have found the recent spate of twin-births (one girl, one boy) in Hollywood slightly suspicious?) Of course, in an ideal world this technology could be used for the greater good, but unfortunately it will be open to abuse by those in pursuit of the perfect “handbag baby” to complement their perfect lifestyles at the perfect time for them.
Plus, (not to sugar-coat the truth), there is something morally repugnant about the idea of impregnating a 100-year-old woman, and why is it that science has seen fit to force something on which nature has put a time limit? It’s not that science is a bad thing. It has offered cures for illnesses, or at least means to control and/or alleviate symptoms of diseases that would have previously left sufferers incapacitated or dead, and while in this respect it has been used to help a body that is essentially ‘out-of-order,’ why does it see fit to then offer a ‘solution’ to a problem that does not exist? A woman of 100 is not infertile because nature has been unkind to her, but because physically she could not nurture a child, nor offer the same sort of support that a younger mother could – her body is doing what it should be by stopping her from getting pregnant. It’s also very unlikely that she would live long enough to provide the care an infant and young child needs. Yes, anyone, whatever age, could step outside one day and get knocked over by a bus, but surely for a woman this age the blocks of mortality are stocked much higher against her threatening to crush her at any moment when they fall? Chance is one thing, but that we are humans and biologically destined to what our body fall in to a state of disrepair and expire is a fact.
I wrote a post on this subject a few months ago. This is not ageism but surely, while women do want to have more control over their fertility, anyone, man or woman, should seriously reconsider their plans to procreate once they have reached a certain age. I appreciate that this age can fluctuate significantly from one woman to the next, owing to a combination of career plans, lifestyle choices, relationship status and health. Some women are also genetically predisposed to remaining fertile for longer. It’s not unusual for some women to experience the menopause in their late thirties (or even sooner) and others not until they are in their fifties (or later). Plus, a woman in her late thirties/early forties may be considerably healthier than a woman in her early twenties, and therefore her body equipped to cope with pregnancy better. I understand that for every idea or rule there is an exception, and also that the individual is empowered to make their own life choices, but I can’t understand why anyone would either want a baby at that age, or encourage a woman to do so. Just because science could offer the means we should not take advantage of it.