Should McGill's bioethicists be allowing a mother to give birth to her own sibling? (National Post April 25, 2007)

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Barbara Kay: Should McGill's bioethicists be allowing a mother to give birth to her own sibling?

In post-biblical literature, King Solomon is known as a figure of great wisdom. In one famous story two women both claimed to be the mother of a child. Solomon offered to cut the baby in two to resolve the dilemma. The false mother agreed to this barbarous solution, but of course the real mother wouldnt hear of it, and offered to withdraw her claim so the child would live, at which point Solomon declared that her willingness to sacrifice the child proved her to be the real mother, and awarded the child to her.

I wonder what King Solomon would make of the following tale: There is a Montreal child of 7 who, as the result of an illness, will be sterile in adulthood. The Ethics Committee of McGill University has given the green light to the girls mother to remove and freeze eggs from her ovaries, which she intends to donate to her daughter, eventually to be fertilized by her daughters husband, when the daughter is married and ready to start a family. The daughter, then, as an adult will be giving birth to a child who is the living product of her husband and her mother.

Biologically speaking, the daughters children will be her own siblings. The husbands mother-in-law is also the mother of his own flesh and blood. The mothers grandchildren will actually be her own children. I do feel this is a rather creepy situation. One could argue that family members often donate organs like kidneys and lungs to other family members, so why not eggs, but a kidney is not a whole person in waiting. A kidney will not someday ask where it came from.

Incest is a universal taboo. Incest taboos were initiated before modern bio-engineering methods were imaginable. So is the instinctive taboo a function of the actual sex involved? Or of the resulting biological relationships, exactly the relationships that will eventuate from this frozen-egg scenario. I don't think this issue was thought through with rigour. There is a reason the play Oedipus Rex still resonates and excites such discomfort. Certain transgressions are hard-wired in human beings.

I am sure the mother has only the most altruistic motives for her action. Yet the road to hell has always been paved with good intentions. It is hard to imagine that the eventual child or children of this procedure wont have identity issues. Not to mention the grandmother herself. These putative children will literally have two mothers. What if the grandmother, unhappy with her daughters mothering, were to reclaim the child or children of the daughter? Who is the real mother and who the false mother?

It would appear that the McGill University Health Centres Ethics Committee has decided that real and false are no longer useful or necessary categories where parentage is concerned. King Solomon would not be amused.