- The Washington Times - Friday, July 13, 2001

Women who believe men are useless should be buoyed by new research that suggests males may not be needed for conception.
Scientists in Melbourne, Australia, say they've shown in laboratory experiments that female mice eggs can be fertilized without sperm, using cells from nonreproductive parts of a mouse's body.
The scientists used ordinary, non-sperm cells from male mice to fertilize the eggs in their study.
But lead researcher Orly Lacham-Kaplan, an embryologist at the Institute of Reproduction and Development at Monash University in Melbourne, says that if the technique works in humans, it could be feasible to fertilize a woman's eggs with a human cell from any part of the body — even a cell from another woman.
"This is all theoretical. But this is a scary road we shouldn't be going down," said Heather Cirmo, spokeswoman for the Family Research Council, who is married and four months pregnant.
While stressing that the research is still in the very early stages, Mrs. Lacham-Kaplan says the findings offer hope that both infertile men and lesbian couples can become biological parents.
"I am not trying to play God. I am not trying to replace God or play with nature. My belief is that if I can help people to have children, I will do that regardless of what other people think," Mrs. Lacham-Kaplan told the Associated Press.
But Mrs. Cirmo of the FRC counters: "The reality is that the disadvantages of this [reproductive strategy] outweigh the advantages. God made it so that a sperm and an egg make a human being. Should we validate homosexuality by giving them a way to procreate?"
Professionals seeking ways to improve fertility say it's far too early for anyone to get too excited about the ramifications of the Australian research.
"If it pans out, it would be a very dramatic breakthrough," said Sean Tipton, spokesman for the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.
"It's a remarkable idea and an interesting study, but ethical issues are involved," said Dr. Masood A. Khatamee, executive director of the Fertility Research Foundation in New York.
In addition, Dr. Khatamee, also a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the New York University School of Medicine, cites the genetic abnormalities that have been found in many animals produced by other new reproductive technologies such as cloning. Such defects cannot be ruled out with the Australian technique, he said.
"This is all very premature. [The new technology] should be kept in mice until a lot more is known," Dr. Khatamee said.
Unlike cloning, which involves the duplication of an existing creature and genetic material from only one animal, the Australian process features a contribution of chromosomes from two partners.
The fact that cells other than sperm cells were used to fertilize the mouse eggs has been hailed as a major achievement.
At a news conference Wednesday, Mrs. Lacham-Kaplan said her research team developed embryos up to 5 days old in the lab. The normal gestation period for mice is 21 days.
She said the next step will be to transfer those embryos into the wombs of other mice that would serve as "surrogate mothers." The researcher said she hopes to produce baby mice within the next year, but admitted she expects "more failures than success."
David O'Steen, executive director of the National Right to Life Committee, expressed worries that with this new technology, scientists will wind up "creating human life and then destroying it for research purposes."
He expressed concern about reports this week that the Jones Institute for Reproductive Medicine in Norfolk has been creating embryos for the sole purpose of extracting stem cells for use in medical research.
Mrs. Cirmo of FRC said the Australian research amounts to "one more step toward totally removing intimacy" from human reproduction.
"We took sex out of it, and now today, they are taking one sex out of it," she said, conceding she worries "a lot of Frankenstein monsters" might be on the horizon.

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