Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Science Tries To Make Babies Without Women, Newspapers Try To forget Us Altogether

Stand down ladies, our work is done. Apparently scientists have found a work around for that one and only useful thing we do: helping men have babies. The poor lads no longer need to put up with us taking up space on the planet, they can replicate unhindered.

Various news sites have been reporting on a new research published in Nature Communications. The articles claim that it may be possible to create babies without an egg, by instead using a sperm and a skin cell. So far the work has been done in mice but we're told that if it works in humans then gay male couples could have babies with both of their DNA or men could go it alone and have a child that is solely theirs. Women, we're told, will not be needed anymore.

The Science Bit

Here's the thing it's easy to miss amid the chest beating enthusiasm: The research was done in mice and it used egg cells. Egg cells that had been tinkered with (so they were a bit more like skin cells) but real life - came from a girl mouse - egg cells.  Scienctists didn't just chuck sperm over supper potent male skin cells and POOF! baby mice. The whole skin cell thing is just an idea at this point, no one has actually done it.

Also, while the male contribution to producing a baby is often little more than the delivery of that one wining sperm, for women there is a little bit more too it; there's that whole womb thing for starters

Because those baby mice didn't just go "POOF!" and appear fully formed in the paternal petri dish. The Misters-are-doing-it-for-themselves embryos were placed into a lady mouse and it was her body which held them, her blood which fed every new cell, every replicating male gene. Scaled up to human size that equals nine months of hard physical work, of pain and sickness and exhaustion. Before you even get to the birth bit.

But this isn't mentioned anywhere in the articles. It's as if this research has wiped women from both the genes and the memory. As if we are nothing but packaging material - something to be tossed in the recycling bin once the goods have been delivered.

I have absolutely nothing against the science. I don't hold with slippery slope arguments and invoking Brave New World or 1984 as a means of stifling scientific curiosity. I want to know about the world, I want to use that knowledge to make it better. This work - and more importantly the work that will follow as other scientists repeat and dig deeper into it - could help us to better understand conception, which in turn could give clues to treating infertility or perhaps preventing miscarriage. I can see why Gay men may want children that share their biology or why a man may want to go solo into parenting, as many women already do.

The Ranty Bit

What bugs me isn't the genetic avoidance of women in the science, it's the complete absence of us from the commentary. If this technique can help two men to create a child why not a woman and a man who would otherwise need IVF and an egg donor? The BBC article doesn't think to mention this but surely our female skin cells are as capable of transformation as a mans?

And where is the discussion on how all those babies will be gestated? We don't have artificial wombs, so where are all these insignificant  human vessels to come from? Perhaps it's not too surprising that The Sun, a paper that glories in supplying men with women's bodies, didn't question this, or dwell over long on the more subtle potentials of the science. Instead it ran with the headline:

Well in that case ladies, I say we let them. I've done three pregnancies, ending in three surgeries, let's let the "blokes" reading The Sun take a turn with the stretch marks and heart burn, with the months of exhaustion and worry, with the uncertainties and risks of giving birth. While they're at it they can have menstruation and the menopause too. Because I think our half of the species is long over due a break. When is science going to come up with that?


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