Men, guard your genes!

Baby-obsessed bachelorettes will soon be able to create sperm from stray skin cells, warns Britain's Telegraph.


Tracy Clark-Flory
February 13, 2008 2:30AM (UTC)

Today, the U.K.'s Telegraph issued an emergency alert: Men, keep tabs on your bodily detritus!

Imagine for a minute that you're the type of man who enjoys an occasional trip to the spa; perhaps you especially enjoy an invigorating exfoliation treatment. Little do you know, your dermatologist -- a baby-obsessed bachelorette -- is collecting your sloughed-off skin. She later brings it to a lab, where via the miracles of modern science it is turned into sperm. Nine months later, this devious dermatologist is giving birth to your offspring, and asking for child support!

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Such a scenario in which women steal men's genetic goods could become a reality in the not-so-distant future, according to the Telegraph. Scientists are currently developing ways to create both sperm and eggs from skin cells. "If sperm and eggs can be created from stray skin cells, people's control over their reproductive choices is dramatically altered," says Anna Smajdor, an ethicist at the University of East Anglia. "A woman could simply pick up a bit of bodily detritus, take it to a laboratory, and give birth to the genetic child of Sir Richard Branson." Or, as the Telegraph imagines it, during a press conference, the prime minister leaves a flake of skin on a lectern and "a woman quietly picks it up, takes it to a lab and, nine months later, gives birth to his child."

Considering the implications of skin-to-sperm technology is an interesting and important ethical exercise. It would indeed be an extreme violation for a man's sperm to be used to impregnate a woman without his knowledge or consent (although, to a lesser degree, that is a risk men already face). But forgive me if I'm slightly skeptical of the frenzied focus on the biological control it would give women. The Telegraph details the nightmarish scenarios facing men, but doesn't waste a drop of ink on similar implications of skin-to-egg technology for women; though men would have to find a surrogate mother, they could hypothetically employ the same type of reproductive trickery.

Most basically, though, are we to assume that producing a sperm or an egg from a flake of skin would be as simple as anonymously dropping off some bodily detritus at a local lab? One would assume, or certainly hope, that if this technology is developed, legal safeguards will be put into place against such unwitting reproduction. So for now, I wouldn't lose any sleep over your misplaced skin cells.


Tracy Clark-Flory

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