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Use of Fetus Eggs for Fertility Sparks Furor

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Another controversy over fertilization techniques erupted in Britain on Sunday amid reports that a method of producing test-tube babies using eggs from aborted fetuses is on the horizon.

Researchers said the technique, which has sparked intense ethical debate, may be able to produce a human baby within three years if the British Medical Assn.'s ethics committee gives it the go-ahead as expected next month.

The technique, pioneered by Dr. Roger Gosden at Edinburgh Medical School, would retrieve eggs from aborted female fetuses, fertilize them and place them in women who are unable to conceive because of early menopause or illness. Gosden has had positive results in the procedure using laboratory mice and mouse fetuses.

The latest developments in fertility come after a 59-year-old woman gave birth to twins in a London clinic after undergoing artificial fertilization in Rome.

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Many doctors and officials argued that women past menopause are unsuitable to become mothers because of the vast age difference between them and their offspring.

Last week, a British fertility clinic was embroiled in another controversy over implanting a white woman’s egg into a black woman, after reports that the woman and her husband, a man of mixed race, wanted to ensure the color of their child.

In the latest case, the thought of creating infants from the eggs of mothers who have never been born has caused some controversy in the medical and political worlds.

Member of Parliament David Alton, a Liberal Democrat, called the new treatment “reminiscent of grave-robbing.”

“This consumerist approach to the creation of life,” he said, “puts it on a par with an American fast-food outlet.”

A report on the research in the Sunday Express newspaper also raised the specter of “fetus farming,” in which women would conceive babies, have abortions and sell their fetuses for cash.

But Prof. Stuart Campbell, head of obstetrics at King’s College Hospital in London, said, “Non-medical moralists who sound off don’t see the desperation of infertile couples.”

The government’s in-vitro fertility watchdog group, the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority, is studying the research.

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Gosden claims that experiments in mice show that eggs from fetuses can be successfully implanted into infertile animals.

The researchers say that the ovaries of a human female fetus can have up to 5 million eggs; the number of eggs gradually diminishes after birth, and by the age of 50 most women have fewer than 1,000, British news reports said.

At present, there is a shortage of women’s eggs because there are so few donors, medical experts say.

“I am certain the technique can be transferred to humans,” Gosden told the Sunday Express. “With ethical permission, the first human baby using the procedure could be born within three years.”

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Some observers said the technique raises legal questions, such as what would happen if a woman decided she had a legal right to her fetus’s fertilized egg in another woman’s body.

“We are creating some nightmare scenarios in the next century,” psychiatrist Anthony Clare said. “People will be growing up whose mothers were aborted fetuses. I’d be very interested to know what the mothers intend to tell their children when they grow up.”

Said Kieran Conrey of the Catholic Media Office, “Any interference in natural procreation is considered unwelcome by the church.”

But Bishop Hugh Montefiore, ex-chairman of the Church of England’s Board of Social Responsibility, said, “I can see nothing wrong in the new procedure. But there must be safeguards. Written consent of both parents of the fetus must be obtained.”

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Most fertility doctors in Britain welcomed news of the treatment.

“It is tremendous news,” said Dr. Peter Brinsden of Bourn Hall Clinic in Cambridge.

And Dr. Stuart Horner, chairman of the medical association’s ethics committee, declared, “We have not found any major ethical objection.”


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