Four parents or more?
There are other technologies on the horizon that could allow even more people to share genetic paternity of a baby. Scientists are hard at work turning human skin and blood cells into eggs and sperm in the lab. They have already done this in mice. If they manage to do this in people, the possibilities of biological paternity expand even further.
The first application would be to allow same-sex couples to have genetically related children. You could, for example, turn a man’s skin into an egg and fertilize it with his partner’s sperm to create an embryo.
But you could also use the same technology to create another sperm or egg from that embryo. In theory, you could do this with sex cells from two pairs, eventually creating an embryo that has four genetic contributors.
Things get even more confusing here, because the four adults would actually be grandparents, and the embryos created in the middle step would be the baby’s parents. Some scientists have said that, technically, these babies would be born orphans. But as others see it, they would have four parents.
Of course, a genetic connection isn’t really what makes someone a parent. A parent is not the provider of DNA, they are the person who takes care of the child and provides an environment for the child to thrive.
You don’t have to be a child’s biological parent to do this. This is obvious, but it is also supported by data collected by Vasanti Jadva, at University College London. Jadva and her colleagues followed the progress of 223 children born around the year 2000. While 80 of the children were conceived in the typical way, 51 were the result of egg donation, 50 were conceived with sperm donation and 42 were conceived by a surrogate. But there was no real difference in the children’s well-being throughout their childhood.
At two years of age, donor and surrogate children showed no difference in social, emotional or cognitive development. If anything, they seemed to have more positive relationships with their parents than typically conceived.
Nor were they particularly concerned about the circumstances of its conception. By the time they were 21, most of them were not worried about having been born through egg or sperm donation or surrogacy, Jadva told the meeting in Amsterdam.