‘‘I am Your Mother and Your Father!’’ In Vitro
Derived Gametes and the Ethics of Solo Reproduction
Published online: 11 March 2016
The Author(s) 2016. This article is published with open access at Springerlink.com
Abstract In this paper, we will discuss the prospect of human reproduction
achieved with gametes originating from only one person. According to statements
by a minority of scientists working on the generation of gametes in vitro, it may
become possible to create eggs from men’s non-reproductive cells and sperm from
women’s. This would enable, at least in principle, the creation of an embryo from
cells obtained from only one individual: ‘solo reproduction’. We will consider what
might motivate people to reproduce in this way, and the implications that solo
reproduction might have for ethics and policy. We suggest that such an innovation is
unlikely to revolutionise reproduction and parenting. Indeed, in some respects it is
less revolutionary than in vitro fertilisation as a whole. Furthermore, we show that
solo reproduction with in vitro created gametes is not necessarily any more ethically
problematic than gamete donation—and probably less so. Where appropriate, we
draw parallels with the debate surrounding reproductive cloning. We note that solo
reproduction may serve to perpetuate reductive geneticised accounts of reproduc-
tion, and that this may indeed be ethically questionable. However, in this it is not
unique among other technologies of assisted reproduction, many of which focus on
genetic transmission. It is for this reason that a ban on solo reproduction might be
inconsistent with continuing to permit other kinds of reproduction that also bear the
potential to strengthen attachment to a geneticised account of reproduction. Our
Department of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies, Umea
Department of Philosophy, Linguistics and Theory of Science, University of Gothenburg,
Norwich School of Medicine, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK
Health Care Anal (2017) 25:354–369
claim is that there are at least as good reasons to pursue research towards enabling
solo reproduction, and eventually to introduce solo reproduction as an option for
fertility treatment, as there are to do so for other infertility related purposes.
Keywords Solo reproduction In vitro gametes Reproductive cloning Genetic
account of reproduction Single parenting Motherhood Fatherhood
Increasing use of assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs) over recent decades has
brought many challenges to the practice, ethics and policy of human reproduction
and parenting. ARTs have facilitated the separation of genetic and gestational
motherhood; they have allowed people with very limited fertility to reproduce; they
have increased the number of cases in which parents and children are not genetically
related to each other. A few things however have stayed the same. So far, every
child ever created has had two chromosomal parents—one of each sex.
Success in current research in reproductive genetics however might change this.
A few years ago, mice were conceived using genetic material from two males ,
and some scientists claim that both the generation of viable eggs from males and of
sperm from females are feasible in human reproduction in the future [19,39].
Hendriks et al.  describe a number of pathways towards the development of
in vitro derived gametes in a systematic review published in 2015. They identify 9
biologically plausible routes that could lead to the development of artiﬁcial oocytes
in males and 9 biologically plausible routes that could lead to the development of
artiﬁcial sperm in females. According to Hendriks et al., clinical application is the
expected outcome of this research. However, they note that the state of knowledge
concerning functionality and safety of human in vitro derived gametes is still
preliminary. Currently, research towards obtaining human gametes in vitro from
other types of cells is ongoing in several labs around the world .
Some researchers have suggested that ‘‘self-fertilisation’’ is also possible in the
future : this could be achieved by using a gamete that an animal naturally has
and an in vitro created complementary gamete, obtained from the cells of that same
animal. If this is possible, then using the procedure in humans might also be
possible. Such a prospect has been met with controversy and has been termed ‘‘the
ultimate incest’’ : a catchy phrase much cited in the British media in 2008. The
prospective use in human reproduction of in vitro gametes, and in particular the
derivation of eggs from male cells and of sperm from female cells, is looked upon
with scepticism in the scientiﬁc community. In 2008, the Hinxton Group (a group of
scientists and other experts, constituted at the initiative of the Stem Cell Policy and
Ethics Program and the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics), issued a
statement according to which
Technologies such as cytoplasmic transfer or mitochondrial transfer have often been reported in the
media as creating ‘‘three parent children’’. Whether the donor of mitochondria is thereby a parent is
Health Care Anal (2017) 25:354–369 355
(a) It is likely to be very difﬁcult to derive eggs that could be used for
reproduction from XY (chromosomally male) cells.
(b) There are biological and technical reasons that will make it even more
difﬁcult, or even impossible, to derive sperm that could be used for
reproduction from XX (chromosomally female) cells .
For the purposes of this paper, we will assume that functional human gametes,
both eggs and sperm, can be obtained from somatic cells taken from either females
or males, and they can be used in reproduction with gametes obtained from the same
person. It would not be the ﬁrst time scientiﬁc progress is made against expert
predictions. Should this be the case, it could be of signiﬁcant interest to people who
currently view their reproductive options as being limited or non-existent. The
ability to create eggs from somatic cells from males, and sperm from females, could
offer same-sex couples the possibility to become (genetic) parents together .
Another possible use is that of creating gametes from one person’s cells and using
them in reproduction with her own gametes. The use in reproduction of eggs from
cells from men and sperm from women would create new legal and social
challenges, and solo reproduction would be still more challenging. Perhaps the ﬁrst
question to be asked here is: why would anyone want to do this?
Why Might Someone Want to Undertake Solo Reproduction?
When considering the possibility of solo reproduction one could ask whether there
is a need for it. Since no-one is able to reproduce naturally without a partner, there is
no obvious place for solo reproduction in medicine. Yet, as we have argued
elsewhere , it is frequently the inability to fulﬁl one’s reproductive aspirations
that drives people to the fertility clinic, rather than any speciﬁc medical disorder.
The fulﬁlment of these aspirations depends partly on one’s circumstances. A woman
may seek in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI)
because of her husband’s incapacity to reproduce, even though she could reproduce
unaided with a different partner. For this reason, the question to ask is not so much
‘who needs’ this technique, but ‘who might want it’?
Reproductive aspirations often have a genetic component: people wish to have a
child genetically related to them and to their partner if they have one. But this is not
always possible. For someone who does not speciﬁcally wish to have a child
genetically linked to any other individual apart from herself, the possibility of solo
reproduction may be highly appealing. One group of potential users could be
couples in which one of the partners is unable or does not wish to reproduce or is at
risk of transmitting a serious genetic condition to their offspring. Single individuals
might likewise see merits in using only their own genetic material. In both cases,
people might prefer to avoid having to deal with the legal and social ramiﬁcations of
gamete donation and with whatever other problems might come via someone else’s
DNA. Given the current signiﬁcance with which genetic connections are invested in
our societies—which includes the perception of genetic progenitors as a child’s real
parents [31,46]—having a child with the help of gamete donation is a challenge for
356 Health Care Anal (2017) 25:354–369
life. Whether or not the parents are open with their children about their conception,
whether or not the donors are known, the donation is rarely a one-off event that
families can simply put behind them: it can affect the relationship between the
parents, the parents’ relationship with their child, with their extended families, and
with society in general . Some of the reasons in favour of solo reproduction via
in vitro created gametes may coincide with some of the reasons in favour of
reproductive cloning: in the words of Lee M Silver writing in the context of
reproductive cloning, ‘‘why should I put unknown, unneeded, potentially disease-
causing genes into my child when I don’t have to?’’  Reproducing with oneself
would keep things very much in the family, so to speak.
Research indicates that some single women choose to have children while they
still can, but hope eventually to ﬁnd a (parenting) partner . These women may
have an extra reason to prefer to not complicate their family life by introducing an
external thread of genetic parenting in their family if they can avoid it. In this way,
even though their partner—if and when they ﬁnd one—will not be the child’s
genetic parent, at least no other party outside the couple will, either. There is no man
out there who the child [or her parent(s)] might one day come to refer to as the real
father. Single men might consider solo reproduction for similar reasons—although
for the time being, in their case a woman’s contribution would still be required to
carry the pregnancy.
Finally, donor gametes (especially eggs) are not always easy to come by and
some people might have moral objections to using other people as sources of
gametes. For example, they may think that that amounts to exploitation or
instrumentalisation of another person. They might also think that their and their
children’s lives will be easier without these additional connections and related
difﬁculties, which may include rejection from these other parties if the child reaches
out to them. With solo reproduction, there is no external narrative—no ‘other’
whose motives and aspirations might form a focus of interest either for the child or
for the adults who are bringing up that child, so long as her genetic parent is one of
Solo Reproduction and Reproductive Autonomy
Reproductive autonomy is often regarded as being of such importance that it should
override moral objections to other people’s reproductive choices. One reason for
claiming that reproductive decisions merit special respect is that they represent a
particularly valuable area of human freedom . In many cases, the arguments
presented for prioritising reproductive decisions and reproductive freedoms focus
speciﬁcally on the biological nature of reproduction . One of the most cited
accounts of reproductive autonomy, John Robertson’s, is rooted in biology and
genes. According to Robertson, there is a ‘basic biologic […] drive to have a
biologically related family’ . Similar ideas can be found in policy documents.
According to The Warnock Report, people experience ‘…a powerful urge to
perpetuate their genes through a new generation. This desire cannot be assuaged by
Health Care Anal (2017) 25:354–369 357
But exactly what is encompassed by this principle is not entirely clear. Different
aspects of biological and genetic relationships may be valued differently by
prospective reproducers . The woman who longs to gestate her child may do so in
the near future through a womb transplant—and indeed the ﬁrst live births by
women having carried their baby in transplanted uteri have already taken place [8,
68]. The person who longs to become a genetic parent but who has no partner or
whose partner is infertile may wish to reproduce with in vitro created gametes.
ARTs have increased the scope for people to choose parenthood independently of
the usual social and biological constraints. Possibilities that might not even be
perceived as ‘reproductive’ by many or even most of us are not obviously outwith
the bounds of others’ reproductive aspirations: the question depends on the contents
of those aspirations, and these are not the same for each person.
John Harris argues that the principle of respect for reproductive autonomy could
encompass reproductive cloning , and that the only grounds for preventing this
would be the risk of harm to the resulting child [34,41]. Although Harris does not
fully articulate his reasons for categorising cloning as reproduction it seems
reasonable to infer that it is primarily because reproductive cloning, like ‘natural’
reproduction, involves the transmission of genes from adult to child, with the
intention to then rear that child. The WHO took a diametrically opposing stance,
describing reproductive cloning as replication rather than reproduction and claiming
that because it was not really reproduction it should be forbidden . Human
reproduction, it has been argued, is essentially collaborative and sexual, whilst
cloning is not sexual and can be non-collaborative (when genetic material from only
one person is used), and thus is more akin to manufacture than reproduction .
Furthermore, the embryo obtained through reproductive cloning is and is not an
embryo, depending on how we deﬁne ‘‘embryo’’: on the one hand, it is not because
it does not arise from conception (the union of gametes); on the other hand it is,
because it has the potential to develop into a human being . Likewise, it could
be argued that solo reproduction with in vitro gametes is not a form of reproduction
and thus is not protected by reproductive autonomy. Indeed, solo reproduction
would not precisely match what we mean now by reproduction. However neither did
IVF or embryo transfer or other forms of altering the natural process of human
reproduction. It is difﬁcult to see why instead of regarding the established content of
a deﬁnition as strictly unchangeable, we cannot look for the broader reasons why we
would call something reproduction: for example, because it is a process through
which someone becomes a (genetic) parent.
Many or most people who seek ARTs are speciﬁcally interested in the genetic
aspect of reproduction. If genetic transmission is taken to be an essential component
of reproduction for many fertility patients, it would appear that solo reproduction
with in vitro created gametes could be classiﬁed straightforwardly as an additional
assisted reproductive treatment. Several reasons could be advanced to support the
statement that solo reproduction is reproduction and ought therefore to fall within
the scope of endeavours protected by reproductive autonomy: it involves the
transmission of genes from adult to offspring; it is the result of the fertilisation of an
egg with a sperm; the embryo is gestated and the child born in the normal way. As
long as genetic transmission remains the focus of many people’s reproductive
358 Health Care Anal (2017) 25:354–369
aspirations, it is evident that solo reproduction with in vitro created gametes will be
viewed as a desirable treatment by at least some people.
If an argument is to be made that solo reproduction should be allowed as a
legitimate exercise of reproductive autonomy, are the risks of harm involved such
that the argument would be compromised from the get-go?
Establishing how much harm is required in order to justify the prohibition of a
particular technique is challenging. We do not prevent people who carry genetic
diseases that they risk passing on to their children (such as cystic ﬁbrosis or
Huntington’s disease) from reproducing. Most of us would not claim that it is
unethical for them to do so—and few of those who would argue that it is, would take
the additional step of claiming that they should be prevented from reproducing.
Would the risks associated with recessive mutations in solo reproduction outweigh
these risks? We must remember that we are talking about risks rather than
certainties here. All pregnancies are risky; many parents risk passing on deleterious
genes, or reproducing in socio-economic circumstances that are associated with a
higher incidence of disease or difﬁculty to the resulting child . Moreover,
procedures such as ICSI and IVF are themselves known to be risky: a meta-analysis
shows a 29 % increased risk of major malformation in offspring born as a result of
these techniques, when compared with natural conceptions . Yet these risks
seem to be regarded as acceptable collateral damage both by clinicians and patients.
This is not to deny the biological complexities involved in reproducing with
oneself. It is known that reproduction between close relatives increases the danger
that offspring will inherit harmful mutations. These risks would be signiﬁcantly
magniﬁed if an adult reproduced with him or herself, as it were. Solo reproduction
would be akin to reproducing with one’s own identical twin. For many this might
seem a sufﬁcient reason to prohibit it. However, we suggest that the prospect should
not be dismissed too hastily. Although it is well known that incestuous reproduction
is risky, the exact degree of risk is hard to ascertain, and may be overstated . A
report published in 2011 suggests that the risk of congenital anomalies in ﬁrst cousin
marriages is 1.7–2.8 % higher than the background population risk . Solo
reproduction would probably be more risky than this—but the question of whether
these risks are excessive, especially in comparison with already elevated risks of
IVF and ICSI, cannot be a given. If, as John Harris suggests, risk is the sole ethical
basis on which it may be justiﬁable to limit reproductive freedom, further work
would need to be done to establish the degree of risk associated with solo
reproduction in comparison with other, already accepted, reproductive techniques.
A particular complication in the context of weighing harm to offspring conceived
using novel technologies is the so-called ‘non-identity problem’.
In essence, if a
child owed its existence and its identity to a technique which is thought to be
risky—reproductive cloning, for example—it is hard to explain how the child has
We thank an anonymous reviewer for raising this concern.
Health Care Anal (2017) 25:354–369 359
been harmed by the use of that technique . If we had not used the technique, the
child would never have existed at all. Because of this, Harris and many others
believe that only if the suffering exceeds a certain threshold can we deem the child
to have been harmed—and this would only be in cases where sickness or pain were
so extreme that life itself is a burden to the child [35,48]. Others have suggested
that this threshold is illusory and that the reliance on ‘harm to offspring’ as the sole
means of identifying unacceptable technologies is misguided . The scope of this
paper does not allow for a full analysis of these questions. It is sufﬁcient for our
purposes to note that there is no consensus as to how to identify and respond to
excessive risk in reproduction.
Even if the risks involved in solo reproduction were known to be extreme, this
would not necessarily imply that the technique must not be used at all. Genetic testing
for autosomal recessive mutations could be carried out. Also, as we are looking at
future possibilities, and at cases in which reproduction would take place in a clinical
environment, there is nothing to prevent a very vigilant process of gamete and embryo
screening, and prenatal diagnosis (PGD) could be used routinely in these cases. As
pointed out by Palacios-Gonzales, Harris and Testa, ‘‘it is fair to expect that by the time
that the prospect of IVG [in vitro gametes] for human reproduction is considered, we
will have a grid of markers and assays to prospectively isolate the IVG that are most
likely to result in viable healthy offspring. And it’s fair to note that this level of scrutiny
is not even comparable to the one that accompanied the ﬁrst-in-human application of
IVF’’ . Part of the appeal of in vitro created gametes is that they can be collected,
multiplied and manipulated easily, and without risk or invasive procedures to the
patient. So although the process is undeniably complex and costly, it would not be
unrealistic to suppose that the risks could be brought within acceptable limits. (Testing
and discarding large numbers of gametes and embryos might in its own right seem
ethically questionable. However, the routine creation and disposal of surplus embryos
is already an integral part of assisted conception in many countries where IVF is
It is important to acknowledge that opprobrium against incest is only partly
rooted in concerns about genetic mutations, and indeed much predates knowledge
about such risks. It also concerns family relationships and confusion of roles within
the family and potential for abuse in unequal relationships (such as that between a
parent and her offspring), parental responsibilities towards children (such as
refraining from seducing one’s offspring) and the signiﬁcance of trust in one’s
upbringing, etc. Elective sterilisation or the possibility to successfully employ
fertility treatment to avoid genetic mutations in offspring resulted from incest do not
therefore entirely defuse objections against incestuous unions. Solo reproduction is
incestuous in one sense: the parent reproduces with the most closely genetically-
related person possible. However it exempliﬁes none of the problems outlined
above. It might be criticised, like reproductive cloning has been before it , for
displaying a form of narcissism and refusal of collaboration in reproduction: what is
so good about your genes and so bad about mixing in anyone else’s that could make
you want to reproduce with yourself? It may be that a person who would seek to be
an only genetic parent may be embarking on such a journey with arrogant ideas
about her own genetic structure. However, as we suggested above, this is not
360 Health Care Anal (2017) 25:354–369
necessarily so: one might have reasons other than a love of one’s own genes to
prefer to avoid donor gametes.
The prospect of creating a child who is not the genetic product of a 50–50
contribution from a male father and female mother might seem so abnormal or
outwith natural processes as to be excessively dangerous. However, the exact 50–50
balance is not in fact a ﬁxed feature of natural human reproduction, since a greater
genetic contribution comes from the mother: offspring inherit the mother’s
mitochondrial DNA as well as her chromosomes. Human reproduction is thus
already genetically slightly unequal. In turn, this has made it possible recently to
create offspring whose mitochondrial DNA is provided by a different woman from
the chromosomal mother. Such individuals are the product of three adults’ genetic
contributions. Even where there are only two genetic contributors, there can be
variation, whereby offspring inherit more chromosomes from one parent than from
the other. These anomalies can happen spontaneously in natural reproduction, and
the imbalance can favour either the father or the mother [22,67]. The main point
here is that we already have ‘natural’ births that involve a higher proportion of
chromosomes from one parent. It is not always 50–50, and the imbalance does not
necessarily lead to drastic health problems in offspring. Whether there is a threshold
beyond which signiﬁcant harm would be caused, remains to be established.
Should the risks of solo reproduction for the health and wellbeing of the resulting
children be higher than the alternatives for the prospective parent(s) (such as gamete
donation), then solo reproduction with in vitro gametes might fall foul of what in
bioethics has been called the Principle of Procreative Beneﬁcence
According to this principle, when a choice is available, parents should choose the
embryo that is most likely to have the best life. In its original formulation, the
principle does not extend to a claim to outlaw the instances in which it is violated:
so this objection would not suggest a need to outlaw the use of solo reproduction.
Moreover, the principle has been formulated in the context of embryo selection
where to exercise choice means simply to choose the ‘best’ embryo. If all the
embryos are created using the solo parent’s cells, the PPB could be easily fulﬁlled
by choosing the ‘best’ embryo from among those created. However, if we attempt to
apply the PPB to the decision to embark on solo parenthood at all, it can easily be
short circuited. The parent need only claim that they will either engage in solo
reproduction, or forego reproduction altogether. Since the PPB does not demand
that people forego reproduction, it would not therefore effectively rule out solo
Male Mothers, Female Fathers, and the Mother and Father in One
In recent years, the sexual dimorphism of genetic parenting is no longer necessarily
reﬂected in legal ascription of parenthood: in some countries same-sex couples
share legal parenting of their children. Moreover, parents can undergo gender
reassignment procedures and thereby fathers may become mothers and vice versa.
We thank an anonymous reviewer for raising this concern.
Health Care Anal (2017) 25:354–369 361
There have been cases in which female to male transgender people have given birth
after their gender reassignment was recognised legally: thus becoming birth fathers
(or birth male mothers). Such are the famous case of Thomas Beatie, the American
man who gave birth to his and his wife’s three children, and more recent cases such
as those reported in Germany and Israel [4,42,43]. Though some may disagree as
to whether these protagonists are ‘really’ men,
legally they are men who gave birth
to children. Furthermore, Beatie refers to himself as his children’s father. Thus,
there already are (genetic and gestational) ‘mothers’ who are their children’s
fathers—if we equate male parent with father.
A large and growing body of research indicates that what matters most for
children is family functioning (the quality of relationships in a family) rather than
family structure (the number, sex, or sexual orientation of the parents, whether or
not parents and children are related genetically to each other) [6,9,26–28,36,44,
63]. More speciﬁcally regarding the gender of the parents, results have been slightly
better when the parents were a lesbian couple , and also in the case of adoptive
gay father families , than in the case of families with two parents of different
gender. According to a research literature review by Biblarz and Stacey, ‘‘parenting
skills are not dichotomous or exclusive’’, and the gender of parents ‘‘has minor
signiﬁcance for children’s psychological adjustments and social success’’ .
According to a recent literature study, the ‘‘no difference’’ outcome for children
from being raised by same-sex parents has reached scientiﬁc consensus . These
results give us reason to expect that the innovations that solo reproduction would
bring in terms of parental gender are unlikely to have a devastating impact on the
One might object to the uniquely unusual situation that one’s genetic mother
would also be one’s genetic father. How will children feel about this? Concerns
such as these regarding the impact of unusual conception methods on children were
brought to the surface at the beginning of IVF and other technologies that are in use
today and which do not seem to cause the feared repercussions . Many people
are not comfortable thinking about the ways and circumstances in which they
themselves were conceived, and this has not attracted attention as a good argument
against natural reproduction. Moreover, concepts of motherhood and fatherhood
have changed dramatically in the last decades , with fathers increasingly taking
on caretaking tasks previously associated with motherhood—and indeed, being
encouraged to become more motherly [20,24]. Maternal and paternal roles are not
ﬁxed, and they vary across times, cultures, or personal circumstances. Having only
one identiﬁable parent and only one that fulﬁls the parenting roles that in other
families mothers and fathers fulﬁl together—an only parent who is both one’s father
and one’s mother—is no novelty either.
According to the judge presiding in Thomas Beatie’s divorce case, the divorce could not be granted
because Beatie was a woman, and same-sex marriages were illegal in that state (Beatie was married to a
woman). The reason why Beatie was not a man, in spite of being legally a man, was that men cannot bear
children, and Beatie had .
In the UK women can be female parents: since 2008, this is the term used to denote the relation to the
child of the same-sex partner of an IVF birth mother. The associations between woman parent/mother and
male parent/father are therefore not necessarily reﬂected in the law.
362 Health Care Anal (2017) 25:354–369
It is difﬁcult to substantiate a concern for the wellbeing of the children of solo
reproduction in terms of parental gender(s). Solo reproduction may create new types
of genetic connections, in a way similar to that in which IVF has allowed to split
biological motherhood into two: the one that provided the egg and the one that
carried the pregnancy to term and gave birth. Instead of multiplying a child’s
connections to other individuals, solo reproduction would reduce them and locate
genetic motherhood and fatherhood in one person.
The Ultimate Single Parent
Solo reproduction can facilitate an extreme form of single parenthood. Single
parenthood is regarded as a serious problem for society at large, for single parents
themselves, and for their children. From a purely practical point of view, being
brought up by more than one person is desirable , and indeed children might be
better off with more than two committed parents . The children of single parents
tend to do less well at school, as well as suffering from a number of other social
problems [2,17,60,62,69]. Furthermore, the idea that children need identiﬁable
genetic parents is reinforced by the increasingly widespread requirement in Europe
that sperm and egg donors should no longer be anonymous. Clearly, however, some
of these concerns do not apply if there is no other parent or gamete donor. One’s
origins would be more transparent if in vitro derived gametes were used for solo
reproduction rather than donated gametes.
When people choose to become single parents through fertility treatment, they
and their children do not experience the same problems as those from non-elective
single parent families, and seem to achieve similar outcomes to offspring from well-
functioning two-parent families [30,47,51]. Reproductive technologies, including
prospective in vitro created gametes, allow single parenthood to be meticulously
planned, thus avoiding the negative factors associated with unplanned single
parenthood. Such factors may include relationship breakdown, death of a partner
and other traumas which affect the remaining parent and children directly or
indirectly. Where single parenthood is chosen there is no traumatic upheaval
associated with the loss of a parent. Women will not be taken by surprise by their
pregnancy, but will be able to plan ahead to ensure that adequate ﬁnancial
arrangements are in place. Single parenthood is not necessarily associated with
harm to offspring. Again, it seems that in the case of in vitro derived gametes, many
of these problems would either not arise, or would be signiﬁcantly mitigated by the
fact that parents would by necessity have had to consider, plan and budget for their
In addition, it is important to note that solo reproduction does not entail single
parenting. The genetic parent may share the parental role with her infertile partner
or with someone else—similarly reproduction does not necessarily entail parenting
and parenting does not necessarily presuppose having reproduced. Furthermore,
discourses of reproduction and parenthood often seem to assume that children are
raised in a kind of social vacuum, occupied only by their genetic or legal parents,
but as Amy Mullin points out, this is simply false. It is often the case that many
Health Care Anal (2017) 25:354–369 363
people contribute to the upbringing of children, even in the most nuclear of families.
It is misguided, as well as unrealistic, to believe that a child’s parent(s) can or
should provide everything that a child needs .
There are far fewer examples of single men than women using ARTs. However,
it does occasionally happen, and there are reasons to believe that intentional single
fatherhood is on the increase [7,14]. For many people, motherhood and childhood
are so intertwined that it may be hard to see how a man could raise a child alone. If
the required in vitro derived gametes were available, the use of donor eggs would
not be an issue. But if single men’s reproductive aspirations are to be fulﬁlled using
in vitro derived gametes, this will, for the time being, require the use of surrogate
mothers. This raises further ethical issues, which will also need to be considered.
We tend to regard single fathers as being admirable. Even more than with single
mothers, there is often an assumption of some kind of tragedy or trauma that has led
to the unfortunate father’s predicament. Again, however, in vitro derived gametes
remove the element of tragedy or trauma and raise the question whether being
brought up by one or more men is traumatic, or tragic, independently of whether one
has experienced the loss of one’s mother. There is very little data on the welfare of
children brought up by single fathers. Historically, children of men whose wives
died would very rarely have been raised by their father alone. They would have been
raised by female relatives or by the father’s new female partner. But gender
expectations are changing, and it is no longer obvious that men are unable or
unwilling to take care of a child without signiﬁcant maternal input from women.
One important consideration in the kind of single parenthood that in vitro derived
gametes could facilitate is the very speciﬁc way in which they enable deliberate
choice of single reproduction. A parent who chooses to reproduce in such a way
imposes on their child the unique situation of not having another genetic parent in
the world, and implicitly no other genetic family thread to which she can relate. It is
not that the other genetic parent is uninvolved in their upbringing or is unknown or
has died: there is not, and there has never been one. The child might still acquire a
second social or legal parent, but not a second genetic parent. Genetic relatedness,
the capacity to recognize one’s traits in others and to learn one’s family history are
valuable experiences: so much so that, according to the philosopher Velleman ,
intentionally alienating children from their biological relatives by creating them
with donor gametes is immoral. Having knowledge of, and contact with, two
branches of genetic relatives, can enrich one’s personal identity. Solo reproduction,
while not estranging the child from genetic relatives, limits this possibility. An
adopted child or a child born via anonymous donor gametes or who is estranged
from her biological relatives may hope to ﬁnd them, whereas nothing may be done
in this regard for the child of solo reproduction.
In a way, the situation of this one-parent–child is similar to that of the cloned
child, who is also the biological child of only one person. Inasmuch as cloning
(almost) replicates a genetic make-up, the cloned child would be genetically the
(almost) identical twin of her parent. Thus, it could be said that the clone’s real
genetic parent is not the person whose genome has been replicated, but that person’s
own parents. The child of solo reproduction however does not share an identical
364 Health Care Anal (2017) 25:354–369
genome with her progenitor. Nevertheless, like the cloned child, she has as many
genetic relatives as her parent. Not more, but also not fewer.
Another concern that may apply to solo reproduction via in vitro derived gametes
as well as reproductive cloning is that it can be an expression of, and reinforce, a
reductive proprietarian account of parent–child relationships: my genetic child is
more mine than other children that I might raise; the child cloned from me or
conceived from my cells only,iseven more mine than one whose genetic parentage I
share with someone else. Furthermore, prospective parents via solo reproduction
may be acting out of a set of socially encouraged beliefs that the genetic connection
between parents and children constitutes a necessary, or even the fundamental,
ingredient of parenting. Yet fertility treatments are currently being used to enable
people to become parents genetically. The implications of such an objection would
need to reach all these other cases as well. It would be inconsistent to continue to
support some people in their quest to have the genetic component in their
reproductive endeavours, and deny it for others. The holding of a geneticised
account of parent–child relationships is not intrinsic to solo reproduction, or to the
preference to reproduce genetically, in general: as we have seen above, one may
have a variety of reasons to prefer to reproduce in this way, many of which do not
rely on prospective parents acting out of such a belief. Moreover, a charge against
solo reproduction for representing ‘‘the ultimate incest’’ can itself be an example of
such a geneticised account of reproduction and parenting.
If one accepts the principle of reproductive autonomy, there are strong reasons for
regarding solo reproduction as an endeavour to be protected as much as other forms
of reproduction. It may be that solo reproduction with in vitro created gametes will
never become feasible in humans, or that the risks will outweigh the potential
beneﬁts. However, as yet, the degree of risk is uncertain, and the hierarchy of
reproductive risks is poorly articulated. There is clearly more work to be done in this
It is probably, all things considered, better for children to have more than one
committed parent. This may maximise the chances of the child receiving more care,
more resources, higher likelihood of parental survival, etc. However, single
parenting need not trigger bad outcomes for children: especially when it does not
come about due to tragic causes such as the death of a parent, and when the socio-
economic circumstances in which it unfolds are good. Furthermore, single
reproduction does not even entail single parenting—unless one adopts a very
narrow genetic account of what parenting means. It might also be the case that it is
better for children to have more than one genetic parent speciﬁcally. Having more
than one genetic parent, and thus more than one set of genetic relatives, may allow
more meaningful connections to more people.
Because solo reproduction reduces rather than expands the number and types of
genetic connections that children will have, in some regards it simpliﬁes rather than
complicates things for the resulting child and her family. This may have
Health Care Anal (2017) 25:354–369 365
disadvantages for the child (by not allowing her a possibly enriching experience) but
also advantages (a stronger bond with the parent, the absence of genetic connections
to donors who may not wish to be identiﬁed, contacted, or relate to the child).
Acknowledgments The authors wish to thank Anca Gheaus, the anonymous reviewers of this journal,
and John Coggon, the editor, for their helpful comments. Part of the work towards this article was
supported by the Centre for Society and Life Sciences and The Netherlands Organisation for Health
Research and Development (research grant ‘‘Artiﬁcial gametes: dynamics and ethics,’’ at Maastricht
University, now completed), part by the Swedish Research Council (grant number 421-2013-1306), and
part by the Wellcome Trust (research grant ‘‘Regulating conception with artiﬁcial gametes: Ethical and
sociocultural issues’’, grant number 075316/Z/04/Z).
Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0
International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, dis-
tribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original
author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were
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