Reproductive freedom and flourishing in the age of in vitro-derived gametes

Dr Lauren Notini1, Dr Christopher Gyngell2,3

1Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne and Biomedical Ethics Research Group, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, Parkville, Australia; 2Biomedical Ethics Research Group, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute; 3Department of Paediatrics, University of Melbourne

‘Artificial’ or in vitro-derived gametes (IVD gametes) offer numerous potential benefits, in research and clinical contexts. Such gametes have produced healthy and fertile offspring in mice and may one day be used by humans, changing the paradigm of parenthood. Some of the potential clinical applications of IVD gametes, such as allowing patients who are infertile from cancer treatment to have genetically-related children, have generally attracted support. Other potential clinical applications of the same technology, such as allowing same-sex reproduction, postmenopausal motherhood and ‘solo’ parenthood, have attracted significantly more criticism. This is often because the former use is viewed as ‘therapeutic’ (and therefore ethically ‘good’), while the latter uses are considered ‘enhancements’ (and therefore ethically ‘suspect’).

In this paper, we focus on same-sex reproduction to contest this idea on two counts. Firstly, we argue that ‘therapeutic’ should not be narrowly understood as furthering physical health only. If a broader account of ‘therapeutic’ is adopted, same-sex reproduction can indeed be considered a therapeutic use of IVD gametes. This is because the ability to have genetically-related children with the partner of one’s choice can make an important contribution to an individual’s flourishing. Therefore, same-sex reproduction should be considered an ethically defensible use of this technology by those who invoke the therapy/enhancement distinction.

Secondly, we argue that, even if same-sex reproduction was “merely” an enhancing, and not therapeutic, use of IVD gametes, there are still strong reasons to allow individuals to access this technology, grounded in the alternative concept of reproductive freedom.

Along the way, we consider and respond to various potential objections, and conclude that none justify a ban on IVD gametes for same-sex reproduction purposes.


Dr Lauren Notini is a Research Fellow with the Biomedical Ethics Research Group, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and the Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne. Her main research interests include paediatric bioethics, clinical ethics, empirical bioethics and the ethics of assisted reproductive technologies. Lauren recently completed a 2-year Fellowship in Clinical and Organizational Bioethics at the University of Toronto Joint Centre for Bioethics. Lauren also has a PhD from the University of Melbourne and a Master of Bioethics from Monash University.