Ethical storm over baby Peter
12.1.07: AT 47, Valerie Jones is a little young to be a grandmother. But the outrage that surrounds Peter, the newborn baby in her arms, has nothing do with his gran's age. What shocks many people is that his mother, Jones's daughter, never existed.
Peter is the result of a controversial fertility technique known as foetal mating. "Peter was actually born from Valerie's body," says Dr Ali Mostyn of Virginia University, one of the few doctors to carry out the procedure. "But the egg he came from was taken from the body of an earlier child that Valerie miscarried. Genetically speaking, Peter is the son of Valerie's daughter who was never born."
The birth has brought a chorus of condemnation from bio-ethicists. "There are many difficult things that a child may have to deal with in life, but we don't have any scale yet for the discovery that your mother did not come into personhood," says Professor Charles Harrison of Harvard.
Human females start with several million eggs while they are in the womb by puberty they have only about 250,000. Animal studies had shown that eggs could be removed from a living foetus and implanted using in vitro fertilisation techniques.
"The theory has been around for years," says Mostyn, "but the feeling was that it was unacceptable to put it into practice."
Jones is unrepentant. "I am going to give Peter all the love in the world," she says. Jones had become pregnant with Peter's "mother" after last-ditch fertilisation treatment, then she found she had cancer. Mostyn extracted eggs from the foetus as a precautionary measure. "Then the worst happened," says Jones, "and I lost the baby."
Critics of foetal mating claim that the next, even more unacceptable, step is for both sperm and egg to have come from lost foetuses. The technology already exists to take the cells that make sperm from a male foetus and transplant them into the testes of a rat, where they will continue to manufacture huma