May 06, 2007
Woman Gives Birth To Her Grandsons
You know how much parents want their kids to make them into grandparents? A woman on the Greek island of Crete used biotechnology to turn herself into a grandmother. A Greek woman unable to carry a pregnancy turned to her mother to do the job with embryos created with in vitro fertilization (IVF).
A 52-year-old woman gave birth to her daughters’ twins on Crete thanks to the technique of in vitro fertilization (IVF), doctors at a private clinic in Hania said yesterday.
Other parts of the article quote the age as 54. The baby boys were born 2.5 lbs each. The premature delivery was not surprising given the grandmother's age. The aging of ovaries is not the only reason older women lose the ability to start viable pregnancies. The reproductive tract and the entire body decline with age as well.
Fast forward 20 or 30 years and picture a future when new ovaries and other female reproductive organs can be grown from scratch and implanted as replacements. More women will make babies in their 40s and 50s. Add in full body rejuvenation (sure to follow) and women will reproduce in their 60s and beyond.
Full body rejuvenation using Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) will inevitably cause a big uptick in fertility. The instinctive desire to reproduce and baby fever will combine with rejuvenation therapies to drive human populations up into the tens of billions unless governments restrict reproduction.
Some people argue we should die to make room for the babies that people instinctively want to create. Some people argue (really, I'm not making this up) that we humans do not have any instinctive desire to reproduce and that we can all get taught to prefer dogs and cats to human babies. That naive Blank Slate thinking belongs in the 20th century along with lots of other foolish 20th century ideas. If we are going to reason about the future in a realistic fashion we need to come to grips with human nature as it exists, not as social engineers would like it to be.
You often discuss the ethics of eugenic-type procedures, but this story suggests an area where the need for regulation is much clearer - preventing older women from being surrogate mothers.
The 2.5 lb babies will probably grow up dumber and possibly with disabilities due to the aged womb environment and premature births. Oh, and being twins lowers IQ too.
But if we want to start regulating irresponsible reproduction I would want to start in an area which is producing many more damaged babies: pregnant women who are alcoholics and drug addicts. I say lock them up in institutions where they can't get their drugs and alcohol. Keep them in those institutions at least until they give birth. Then implant Norplant in them once they give birth so that they can't get pregnant again for a while.
I like Barbara Harris's Project Prevention where she pays crack head mothers and other mother addicts to get Norplant or tubes tied.
Does twinning reduce IQ after controlling for birth weight and/or pregnancy term?
By the way, if you can grow reproductive organs from scratch, why implant them? FAR better to leave them outside of the body and mix gametes externally. This allows you to make millions of fertilized oocytes, gene-sequence a cell from each once they reach blastocyst stage, and implant your favorite in a young healthy surrogate mother. For the ambitious, try genetically engineering the ova, repeated rounds of meiosis, or building chimeras with different genomes in different tissue types.
The urge to reproduce is presumably fixed. The number of fertile years that women experience has grown mightily in the last century. That math says we should have seen many more babies. And yet fertility has crashed, in every locale in which women exercise control. The new number for desired offspring appears to be between 0 and 1.
I don't see that further improvements to health/longevity will turn around this multi-cultural trend. It's even happening in Iran.
"Full body rejuvenation using Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) will inevitably cause a big uptick in fertility."
Only a small % of women have fewer children than they desire due to fertility problems. Many more than that have more than they desire, due to social disorganization.
"Some people argue (really, I'm not making this up) that we humans do not have any instinctive desire to reproduce and that we can all get taught to prefer dogs and cats to human babies."
Is that related to our earlier conversation about this? We certainly see many people who are dying for children. But, have we seen evidence that this has a dominant genetic component? I think it's certainly possible, but I'd hesitate to assert it as a certainty without some research. Intuition is insufficient.
More importantly, that's not what I was arguing. What I was arguing was that to the extent that this exists genetically (as opposed to desire for sex, companionship, family support in old age, and cultural teaching and pressure), it's clearly less powerful than cultural factors, and isn't likely to increase fast enough through natural selection (like in the next 75 years) to make a significant difference.
Really, an important distinction needs to be made: the assumption here seems to be that we want MANY children. My experience is that a lot of people want children, but that almost everybody is satisfied with one to 3 healthy, adult children. Ask older parents if they want more children, and they are typically very surprised, and have an attitude of "been there, done that. It's not uncommon for them to even say they wouldn't do it over again.
Finally, I would expect that rejuvenation would increase population (though not as much as one might think: think of the series of 1+.75+.75 squared+.75 cubed, etc: it's asymptotic), but who cares? By the time rejuvenation is widespread, we are likely to have the prosperity and technology to accomodate many more people without overloading the environment, and added longevity will create a longer-term perspective to accelerate such an environmentally friendly aproach.
There's a new book out called "Everything Conceivable" about reproductive medicine. You might think it's interesting.
I've had many people argue to me that there's no instinct to reproduce. I say women like babies too much for that to be the case.
I'm also arguing that given strong enough selective pressures natural selection can happen very rapidly. What is needed to make it happen rapidly is the pre-existence of the genetic variations to select for and a strong pressure driving the selection.
I'm saying the strong pressure is obviously there. The question one can ask: Does the desire for children vary enough for genetic reasons that there is a subpopulation with a very strong desire for offspring. I think there is such a subpopulation.
Also, why think about only 75 years? 75 years ago was only 1932. Since many of us will benefit from rejuvenation therapy we will live to see 100, 200, 300 years from now.
It might be helpful to quantify some of the things you're suggesting. Again, as you note in a later post, natural selection and genetics can behave in non-intuitive ways. So, these dynamics seem possible to me, but not large enough or fast enough to worry about.
When I say 75 years, I'm not limiting lifespan, I'm limiting the time period in which over-population is a concern. If we manage not to reduce ourselves to nano-goo in the meantime, we're likely to be sufficiently prosperous and technically capable in 75 years that we can accomodate essentially whatever population size we want.
Doctors should explain clearly to women the idea of freezing their eggs when young, and, why. They should also be more clear about menopause...not pass it off as a virus or flu when someone has night sweats. Also, maybe there is a way to make more eggs and keep the woman's system healthy enough to bear children. Why not look into that?
Randall's comments are some of the more optimistic ones on the web for middle-aged (now 80) women. Life span is now 160.
Paris, F. et al. Nature Med. 8, 901−902 (2002). See PubMed