The prospect of artificial sperm and eggs

Robin Baker describes in his book Sex in the Future, a new method of contraception. This system consists of three components: sterilization, storage of sperm and eggs, in vitro fertilization. According to Baker this system has the following benefits. First sterilization is quite effective in preventing unwanted pregnancies. But by storing human gametes outside the body and ivf, sterilized people can have children when they desire.

Baker’s proposal is, however, not without drawbacks. Collecting and storing sperm from males is relatively easy, but for women this will require surgery. Additionally women have to collect their eggs – or rather their ovaries – at young age, as female fertility rapidly declines after their thirties.

There have been recently be calls for women to have their eggs to be frozen at young age, one of the reasons being that such treatment would enable young women to make a professional career before having kids. Though women should have the right to freeze their eggs, it is questionable whether this will ever become a popular option – given the invasive medical procedure it requires.

Another issue with storing human gametes is the gamete bank. One issue Baker mentions is the possibility of bankruptcy of the gamete bank, another one is the possibly that because of administrative mistakes gametes are registered under the wrong name. And not in the last place the possibility that the physical infrastructure of the gamete bank is destroyed.

Scientific developments seem to make the necessity of storing gametes, in a traditional sense, obsolete. British scientists have succeeded in making primitive sperm and eggs cells from skin cells, and they believe it will be possible to grow these cells into mature gametes.

This approach has two main advantages. First the collection of skin tissue from a person, is a much less invasive procedure than collecting eggs or ovary tissue from a woman. Secondly, skin tissue could be collected when a person decides to have children and hence eliminating the need to store gametes for decades.

Baker believes that the major hurdle to acceptance of his system, is the sterilization part. Sterilization requires a surgical procedure to tie one’s tubes. Instead he suggest to use genetically engineered viruses to sterilize people, since some people have become infertile due to an infection of their tubes. Genetic engineering would remove the pathological symptoms from these viruses, but retain their sterilizing effect.

The main advantage of this method, Baker believes, is that sterilization would become as easy as a vaccination. One disadvantage of this method, as identified by him, is that there will be an incubation period between the “vaccination” and actual sterilization. There is, however, the possibility that in some people this will not work, because their immune system will fight of the viruses.

Of course, we believe none of these techniques should ever become compulsory – nor does Baker. But we believe that this method of controlled reproduction should be available to everyone, regardless for their financial means.