Schiewe: Maybe in 25 years we will not only be able to diagnose these conditions, we may be able to cure them as well. I think that's an example of how technology can help mothers to have more choices. It's offering women the choice of having a healthy child.
Lopez-Enns: That's what every mother wants, of course. That's what every mother dreams of.
Mehren: Or for that matter, every father. Looking into our postmillennial crystal ball, we toy with the speculation that the mother of 2020 may actually be a father.
Schiewe: It's not likely. I don't see it anywhere on the scope. But who knew 20 years ago that we'd be doing egg donations? I didn't.
Charlop-Christy: I doubt that you'll ever see a man actually having a baby--although if you did, it would be a pretty interesting sight. But single men are already adopting on their own, and you may see more of them hiring surrogates. If you're talking about the environmental side of parenting, about providing a warm and loving home for a child, and a ballast for that child, then many fathers are perfectly capable of being good "mothers." I think men in general can make wonderful caretakers, and the psychological literature supports this. It's the quality, not the chromosome, that we're talking about.
Mehren: There have been reports that scientists are working to create artificial womb environments--off-site housing, in a manner of speaking, for developing fetuses.
Lopez-Enns: I was well into my 40s when I started trying to become a mother. If that technology had existed, I might have considered it, but you have to look at a lot of things. In our case, there was a baby already available [to adopt]. Having a genetic part of me, having a genetic part of my husband didn't matter at all.
Belen Eller: It seems strange to think about going outside your own body to do that one thing that ought to be so simple--just to have a baby--but for those who can't, it's good that science is making all these other things possible.
Schiewe: I don't think we're going to see these artificial wombs, not in the near future. I think that's going to be a gap that will need more than 25 years to bridge.
Mehren: Animal research, Schiewe's former specialty, still provides the basis for much of the work in reproductive technology. The recent appearance in Scotland of Dolly, the laboratory-created sheep, has made it impossible to ignore the possibility that humans might also reproduce via cloning.
Lopez-Enns: Cloning, that's scary to me. I certainly would not want an identical reproduction of me, nor of my husband. We're so lucky we have an adopted child. We couldn't have done better by copying ourselves.
Belen Eller: I hope we're not all about to go out and clone Tom Cruise. What a boring human race that would be.
Charlop-Christy: People get very caught up by all this talk about cloning. They forget that what it means is an exact reproduction of yourself. I think it would be weird to see yourself identically repeated. That's why I don't see that cloning is going to be something that's going to be looked on as positive. Now when you have a baby, you kind of make a physical combination of each other--his legs, her eyes and so forth. I think people want a child who is genetically part of them--that's why people go through fertility treatment instead of automatically adopting.
Bobbie Eller: I don't care for [cloning] too much. It's a moral issue. Why would you clone somebody? Anyway, I don't know if just because you could make a sheep in a laboratory, you could therefore make a human.
Schiewe: If this can be done in a large mammal like the sheep, in most instances there are not such huge differences in humans that they cannot be overcome. The number of chromosomes is different, but the mechanism of fertility is basically the same. But the way that cloning has been talked about in the media is misleading. It's unlikely for humans, but it's not out of the question. The only concern, when it happens, is how it will be used. None of us knows that, and hopefully it will be for the right reasons.
Mehren: Another example of the controversial use of reproductive technology is the harvesting of ova from fetuses, in which, if ova were to be fertilized, a baby might be born to a biological "mother" who never existed. Harvesting eggs from fetuses was sufficiently troubling that scientists in England, where the work was proceeding, chose to halt that line of research.
Schiewe: It's not being done in this country, so far as I know. But this procedure is [scientifically] possible. It's not being done here, I think, because of the strong ethical issues. No scientists want to potentially blacklist themselves in a society where the use of human materials for research is not well supported by the government. You'd be going way out on a limb for something that's not federally condoned, or culturally condoned.