A Womb Without a Woman

A Womb Without a Woman

A Womb Without a Woman

Science, technology, and life.
May 13 2008 3:34 PM

A Womb Without a Woman

Today I've been reading up on the trans-Atlantic news about a genetically modified human embryo . I'll have some thoughts on that shortly. In the meantime, while reading Britain's  Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill as part of my research, I noticed what might be a loophole. I'll point it out here, since the bill is being debated by the British parliament right now.

The bill proposes to lift previous restrictions on tinkering with human embryos. To reassure critics and the public, it promises to prevent altered embryos from growing into people. Here's the relevant legislative language :

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.


No person shall place in a woman—

(a) an embryo other than a permitted embryo (as defined by section 3ZA), or

(b) any gametes other than permitted eggs or permitted sperm (as so defined). ...

No person shall place in a woman—

(a) a human admixed embryo,

(b) any other embryo that is not a human embryo, or

(c) any gametes other than human gametes.

Now, here's my question: Is Thomas Beatie a woman? Here's his first-person account, published seven weeks ago in the Advocate :

I am transgender, legally male, and legally married to Nancy. ... Sterilization is not a requirement for sex reassignment, so I decided to have chest reconstruction and testosterone therapy but kept my reproductive rights. ... I always wanted to have children. However, due to severe endometriosis 20 years ago, Nancy had to undergo a hysterectomy and is unable to carry a child. ... [So] I stopped taking my bimonthly testosterone injections. ... My body regulated itself after about four months, and I didn't have to take any exogenous estrogen, progesterone, or fertility drugs to aid my pregnancy.

How did he get pregnant? By using donated sperm, as millions of women have done. He reports:

On successfully getting pregnant a second time, we are proud to announce that this pregnancy is free of complications and our baby girl has a clean bill of health. ... Despite the fact that my belly is growing with a new life inside me, I am stable and confident being the man that I am. In a technical sense I see myself as my own surrogate, though my gender identity as male is constant.

Beatie says his initial attempt at pregnancy produced ectopic triplets, which cost him a fallopian tube and could have killed him. So he has good reasons to do IVF and screen his embryos. Suppose doctors find a genetic flaw in his next embryo and can fix it. That's human germline modification. The British bill says the altered embryo can't be placed in a woman. But under the law, Beatie isn't a woman. He's a man.

I'll let you lawyers sort it out . But it sure looks like a loophole to me.