Reproductive technology could be a life-changing but ethically questionable solution for those unable to conceive. George Winter examines the role that midwives could play in the future
First coined by the French philosopher Antoine Cournot, ‘the end of history’ is a phrase that was later popularised in the 1990s by the American political scientist Francis Fukuyama.
But might the 2020s see ‘the end of sex’? It's not an altogether frivolous question. Bernard M Dickens, for example, cited Henry T Greely's book The End of Sex and the Future of Human Reproduction, which ‘looks two to four decades ahead in the development and popularization of genetic biotechnology to predict and justify widespread abandoning of sexual intercourse for the purpose of reproduction’ (Dickens, 2017: 165). It could be argued that book promotions thrive on outrageous claims, but Greely's are derived from scientific advances published in peer-reviewed journals.
Take, for example, the concept of artificial gametes. Smajdor et al (2018) note that initial steps towards laboratory-created sperm and egg cells were taken in 2003 and 2004 by scientists working with embryonic stem cells. Subsequent work revealed that substituting embryonic stem cells with ordinary adult skin cells allowed so-called ‘induced pluripotent stem cells’ (iPSCs) to be produced. These iPSCs could in turn be manipulated into specialised cells such as gametes, and research is ongoing.
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