Subscribe to the BioNews newsletter for free

Login
Advanced Search

Search for
BioNews

Like the Progress Educational Trust on Facebook


 

Issue 929 (04 December 2017)

 

Welcome to BioNews by email, published by the Progress Educational Trust, providing you with news, comment and reviews on genetics, assisted conception, embryo/stem cell research and related areas.

Visit the BioNews website at www.bionews.org.uk where you can subscribe for free to receive BioNews by email in one of three formats, and search the archive of more than 6,000 articles.

 

 

CONTENTS

Comment

News Digest

Reviews

 


 

Autism, genetics and epigenetics: why the lived experience matters in research

04 December 2017

By Dr Kristien Hens and Dr Leni Van Goidsenhoven

Page URL: http://www.bionews.org.uk/page_914867.asp Appeared in BioNews 929

Popular scientific publications regularly have articles with headlines suggesting that 'autism is hereditary' or that the 'risk for developing autism' is mostly caused by genetics (see BioNews 920). Consequently, there is the suggestion that associating certain genes with certain subtypes of autism will pave the way for future medicines (see BioNews 892).

Indeed, as the key diagnosis of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, autism has for long been perceived as a neurodevelopmental disorder that one has from birth and that is highly familial and genetic in nature. Although it is true that genes play a significant role in its development, the vast majority of genetic variations that may explain autism are risk factors, meaning that these variations also occur in the non-diagnosed population, and that other factors influence autism's development. As pointed out by Pellicano et al. in 2014, genetic research and its discourse is based on notions as 'truth' and 'certainty', but paradoxically and despite the significant levels of investment, autism research is noteworthy precisely because of its uncertainty and indeterminacy.

Examining the genealogy of autism research and diagnosis (Nadesan 2005, Waltz 2013; Verhoeff 2015), it is apparent how the field of genetic autism research and its definition of autism as a purely organic disorder, can be seen as emerging as an explicit disavowal of the psychoanalytic concept of autism as rooted in the mother-child relationship.

In other words: genetic research is exculpating the 'refrigerator mother' – the discredited mid-20th century hypothesis that inadequate parenting resulted in a child developing autism. But what we tend to forget, however, is that genetic research in itself also changes what we come to understand as autism and vice versa. Moreover, in testimonials of autistic people, we read that a simplistic genetic model does not give an answer to the question of what it means to live with autism. Indeed, in genetic studies, and many autism studies in general, there is little to no space for questions about experiences - the question about why a certain behaviour happens is the most important one, while the question about how this ties in with a certain experience of the world is often absent.

For example, we attended the International Autism Research Workshop in Ghent, Belgium in March 2016, where the latest knockout mouse for autism was presented. This mouse showed digging behaviour that was considered excessive, and hence autistic. However, mouse models do not allow a further investigation as to the 'why' of the behaviour, if we do not accept a simple 'it is in her genes' as answer. Furthermore, testimonies of autistic people are suggesting that we don't need one single explanation for autism and that it should be characterised as a condition of 'the idiosyncratic brain'. This, of course, ties in with the debate of autistic heterogeneity. No one thing unites all individuals with autism and there may be no one thing that explains all symptoms.

The omnipresence of the hunt for the autism genes also mirrors a certain ideology; the ideology that our very nature as human beings is shaped by our genetic material and the structure and function of our brains. Indeed, many sociological studies have pointed out that genetics and neuro(bio)logy are playing a crucial role in our thinking about individuals and society. Also in philosophy, the discussion in how far we 'are' our brains or our genes is still ongoing.

However, biologists and philosophers of biology alike have known for some time that the deterministic view on genes is wrong (Griffiths, 2011; Jablonka & Lamb, 2005). For instance, the emerging field of epigenetics investigates the mechanisms by which certain genes are switched on and off: mechanisms which are under the influence of the environment. From this field of study, a view on human nature emerges that positions human beings as far more dynamically connected with their physical and psychosocial environment as previously envisioned. Also in autism, epigenetic factors have been explored (see BioNews 702). This has relevance for how we conceive autism, and for the importance of including the experience of autistic people in research.

Epigenetics, in our view, is not a mere replacement of one explanatory model by another one. One does not want to bring back the 'mother blaming' of the 1960s and 1970s. Neither does one want to replace a simplistic single gene explanation of autism by a simplistic single environmental factor, such as, for instance, in the MMR vaccine controversy of the early 2000s. Ethicists and scientists alike should make sure that no black and white conclusions are drawn from epigenetics studies, and that this new field is not simply replacing one culprit (the autism gene) by another (the autism environmental pollutant). In fact, the more nuanced view of human biology that is suggested by epigenetics may help move the discussion from the search for causes and culprits to experiences and understanding.

Who we are and the problems we face are the result of complex interactions of our genetic disposition with our physical and psychosocial environment. As such, problems are never problems of the individual (Barad 2007). For autism, this may suggest a view that a genetic or neurological vulnerability, in combination with environmental factors (both physical as well as psychosocial) can cause the difficulties of autistic people, and that the search for causes solely in the individual itself is doomed to fail.

Epigenetics may introduce an approach to the biology of autism and neurological development that is not deterministic, but dynamic, that stresses context as well as interaction rather than individual dysfunctioning, and that could value lived experiences as integral part of research endeavours. As the French physician and philosopher Georges Canguilhem said: 'Life is experience'.

RELATED ARTICLES FROM THE BIONEWS ARCHIVE

30 May 2017 - by Annabel Slater 
A study of almost 80,000 people has identified 40 new genes linked to intelligence...
10 April 2017 - by Dr Lucy Freem 
Children with autism spectrum disorder who received infusions of their own stem cells from banked umbilical cord blood as part of a clinical trial have no apparent lasting adverse effects after one year...
01 February 2016 - by Dr Julia Hill 
A Chinese laboratory has created genetically modified monkeys that show symptoms of autism...
11 January 2016 - by Dr Rosie Gilchrist 
Britain's largest sperm bank has been turning away potential donors who have dyslexia...

HAVE YOUR SAY

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions


Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.


 

Gene that protects against Alzheimer's disease found

04 December 2017

By Ewa Zotow

Page URL: http://www.bionews.org.uk/page_914408.asp Appeared in BioNews 929

Researchers have discovered a gene which may reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.

The study, published in Genome Medicine, identified a genetic variant in high-risk people who showed no signs of the disease in old age. This genetic marker seems to have a protective influence and could potentially be targeted with drugs to decrease the risk of Alzheimer's disease.

'Instead of identifying genetic variants that are causing disease, we wanted to identify genetic variants that are protecting people from developing disease,' said lead author Dr Perry Ridge of Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.

Past studies have tended to compare people affected by Alzheimer's with healthy controls, but the genetic factors identified this way have not yet resulted in effective treatment. Using a novel approach, this research focused on protective genetic variants which may be a plausible target for interventions.

The study focused on unaffected individuals within families with unusually high rates of Alzheimer's disease. The resilient individuals were cognitively healthy despite being at least 75-years-old, and carried a genetic variant strongly associated with increased risk of the disease, APOE e4. The researchers used whole genome sequencing and linkage analysis to look for genetic changes that were common among the healthy subjects but were not shared with the family members who developed Alzheimer's.

A variant of the RAB10 gene was discovered, which was present only in the resilient individuals. The researchers found that standard RAB10 is over-active in the brains of people with Alzheimer's, and that by deactivating this gene in mouse cells, there was a reduction in the amount of disease-related protein produced.

These multiple lines of evidence increase the understanding of the relevant mechanisms involved in the disease and point towards potential treatments. In the future, it may be possible to design drug interventions aimed at affecting the expression of this gene.

Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia and it is known to be highly heritable. The cost of caring for affected individuals is substantial and predicted to rise in the coming decades.

'There are currently no meaningful interventions for Alzheimer's disease; no prevention, no modifying therapies, no cure,' said Professor John Kauwe, senior author of study. 'The discoveries we're reporting in this manuscript provide a new target with a new mechanism that we believe has great potential to impact Alzheimer's disease in the future.'

RELATED ARTICLES FROM THE BIONEWS ARCHIVE

24 July 2017 - by Caroline Casey 
Two new genes which alter the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease have been identified...
20 March 2017 - by Dr Julia Hill 
Two common variants of TMEM106B and progranulin (GRN) genes have been discovered to accelerate normal brain ageing...
18 July 2016 - by Chris Hardy 
A gene variant linked to increased risk of Alzheimer's disease may affect memory and thinking skills in children, a study has found...
11 July 2016 - by Sarah Gregory 
Researchers looking at multiple genes have developed risk scores that could identify those most likely to develop Alzheimer's disease in later life...

HAVE YOUR SAY

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions


Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.


 

Synthetic DNA used to make proteins in living cells

04 December 2017

By Dr James Heather

Page URL: http://www.bionews.org.uk/page_914335.asp Appeared in BioNews 929

It is the first time that bacteria have been able to produce proteins coded in genes written in an augmented DNA 'alphabet'. Scientists at the Scripps Research Institute in California had previously described being able to modify bacterial cells to use the extra synthetic letters, or 'bases', in their DNA. This gave them an X and a Y, along with the A, C, G and T that all other organisms use (see BioNews 886). Now, genes using X and Y have been shown to work, producing a functional protein, according to a paper published in the journal Nature

'There is no biological system so fundamental and more intimately related to what we are than information storage and retrieval,' study lead author Professor Floyd Romesberg, told Nature News. 'What we've done is design a new part that functions right alongside the existing parts and can do everything they do.'

The researchers gave Escherichia coli the molecular tools required to make sense of the new bases, allowing it to read DNA containing X and Y. This it could transcribe into RNA, which is used as a template for translating into protein. Organisms use combinations of three letters, called codons, to specify which amino acids go where in a protein. In this study, the researchers inserted the synthetic bases into a codon in a gene which produces a fluorescent protein.

Not only were the bacteria using codons containing the new bases, but, building on the work of previous groups, the researchers made the bacteria use those codons to make the cells incorporate synthetic amino acids that do not appear in nature. These 'non-canonical' amino acids represent a thriving area of synthetic biology research, as they potentially allow scientists to add novel chemical properties to proteins.

This expansion of the genetic alphabet is another milestone achievement for the field of synthetic biology. This field could eventually give living organisms new and useful properties not found in nature. However, the bacteria in this study have a long way to go to fulfill these aspirations.

These 'semi-synthetic organisms' have only currently been shown to use X and Y in one codon at a time. They were not dispersed throughout the genome like the four natural bases are. They were also only used in a protein known to be very tolerant of alteration. This paper also only describes two novel codons using X and Y, although Professor Romesberg said that the group has identified 12 more that work. 

'This was the smallest possible change we could make to the way life works – but it is the first ever,' said Professor Romesberg.

RELATED ARTICLES FROM THE BIONEWS ARCHIVE

08 May 2017 - by Annabel Slater 
Human DNA could be artificially synthesised in around five years or less, according to one of the organisers behind the Genome Project-write plan...
13 March 2017 - by Jamie Rickman 
An international team has rewritten the genetic code of five chromosomes in yeast – one third of the organism's entire genome...
30 January 2017 - by Dr James Heather 
Scientists have developed bacteria which can live and grow with DNA containing extra 'letters'...
12 May 2014 - by Siobhan Chan 
Bacteria with two extra synthetic DNA bases in their genome have been created in the lab for the first time...
23 April 2012 - by Ana Pallesen 
Six new kinds of artificial genetic material have been created by scientists. These XNAs, or xeno-nucleic acids, have similar life-building properties to naturally-occurring DNA...

HAVE YOUR SAY

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions


Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.


 

UK Parliament considers law change on single-parent surrogacy

04 December 2017

By Jennifer Willows

Page URL: http://www.bionews.org.uk/page_914359.asp Appeared in BioNews 929

A remedial order has been laid before the UK Parliament which, if passed, will give single people the same rights as couples to become the legal parents of their surrogate-born children.

Under UK law, the woman who gives birth to a child is automatically considered the child's legal parent. In cases of surrogacy a parental order is required to transfer the legal parenthood to the intended parents. However, current law only permits couples to apply for parental orders.

'So single parents who had a child through surrogacy have been stuck in this gap where they're living with their child but they’re not formally their legal parent,' family lawyer Natalie Gamble told the Independent.

The law in question (Section 54 of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008) was judged incompatible with human rights legislation by the president of the family division of the UK High Court in the case Re Z in 2016. In that case an intended father was prohibited from obtaining a parental order on the sole ground of his status as a single person as opposed to being part of a couple (see BioNews 852).

However, judges do not have the power to change laws written in Acts of Parliament – so it has been up to Parliament to amend the law to bring it into line with the European Convention of Human Rights. In the meantime, more children have been left in legal limbo as judges were powerless to grant parental orders (see BioNews 926).

Sir James Munby, president of the family division, explained in Re Z the importance of having the correct legal parent(s): 'Section 54 goes to the most fundamental aspects of status and, transcending even status, to the very identity of the child as a human being: who he is and who his parents are… A parental order has an effect extending far beyond the merely legal. It has the most profound personal, emotional, psychological, social and, it may be in some cases, cultural and religious, consequences.'

Once the order is passed by Parliament – expected to be in 2018 – it will come into force within two weeks. It will apply to future applications for parental orders, but there will be a one-off six-month period in which families can apply retroactively if they were unable to do so before. Applications must normally be made in the first six months after birth.

'We’re really glad these children will not be left as legal orphans and will be resolved in the loving families in which they were born,' Gamble said.

RELATED ARTICLES FROM THE BIONEWS ARCHIVE

13 November 2017 - by Sean Byrne 
A woman has been denied legal parenthood of her surrogate-born child because she is single, despite being the genetic mother...
14 August 2017 - by Julianna Photopoulos 
A number of liberal reforms to the Surrogacy Regulation Bill 2016 have been proposed by India's parliamentary Standing Committee on Health and Family Welfare...
19 December 2016 - by Ryan Ross 
The government has welcomed a House of Lords debate on surrogacy law reform, promising to consider whether the statute needs to be updated...
31 May 2016 - by Adem Muzaffer, Elizabeth Isaacs QC and Natalie Gamble 
The President of the High Court Family Division declared last week that UK surrogacy law was incompatible with the human rights of a single father and his child...

HAVE YOUR SAY

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions


Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.


 

Snuggled babies show lasting changes to their DNA

04 December 2017

By Sam Sherratt

Page URL: http://www.bionews.org.uk/page_914366.asp Appeared in BioNews 929

Close, physical contact – or the lack of it - at an early age may lead to lasting changes to the genes, suggest researchers.

The team at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, showed that babies receiving less physical contact during times of emotional distress developed a significantly altered epigenome compared with children receiving lots of contact. Their epigenomes were also under-developed by comparison.

'In children, we think slower epigenetic ageing could reflect less favourable developmental progress,' said Professor Michael Kobor, senior author on the study published in Development and Psychopathology.

The epigenome refers to the semi-permanent chemical changes or 'marks' added on to human DNA that can act as on/off switches for genes.

The team asked the parents of 94 five-week-old babies to keep daily diaries recording physical contact with their child and their infants' behaviours, such as sleeping and crying, during the duration of the study. DNA swabs were taken from the children four to five years later.

The researchers looked at a specific epigenetic change called DNA methylation. They found consistent differences in the methylation pattern between children who received a lot of contact, to those receiving less contact, at five DNA sites. Of these, two sites were within genes: one involved in metabolism and the other in the immune system.

The researchers were concerned by an additional finding: as people age their epigenomes alter according to a predictable pattern as genes are turned on and off during development. But the children who showed higher levels of emotional distress and received less physical affection had a younger 'epigenetic age' than they should have had.

'We plan to follow up on whether the "biological immaturity" we saw in these children carries broad implications for their health, especially their psychological development,' said lead author Dr Sarah Moore. 'If further research confirms this initial finding, it will underscore the importance of providing physical contact, especially for distressed infants.'

A second study published last week in JAMA Psychiatry also suggested that early emotional experiences may impact across generations. It found that the daughters of Finnish women who were evacuated to foster homes in Sweden during World War II as children were twice as likely to be hospitalised for a psychiatric disorder than their female cousins whose mothers were not evacuated. No effect was seen for boys. The study used the Finnish National Archives to identify and study over 93,000 children of war evacuees.

Lead author Dr Torsten Santavirta, at Uppsala University in Sweden, told the New York Times that it was possible that trauma cause changes in gene expression that are then inherited, but that the team did not have access to genetic information in this study.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
JAMA Psychiatry | 29 November 2017
 
ScienceAlert | 29 November 2017
 
Development and Psychopathology | 22 November 2017
 
University of British Columbia | 27 November 2017
 
The New York Times | 29 November 2017
 

RELATED ARTICLES FROM THE BIONEWS ARCHIVE

10 October 2016 - by Dr Ashley Cartwright 
A person's 'epigenetic age' can predict how long they will live, according to a study of over 13,000 individuals...
01 September 2015 - by Antony Blackburn-Starza 
Genetic expression adjustments linked to stress and trauma may be inherited by children, a study has claimed. The findings may support the view that the effects of life experiences on gene expression could be passed on to the next generation...
03 August 2015 - by Dr Linda Wijlaars 
Epigenetic variation can predict the risk of post-natal depression symptoms in women without a history of depression, researchers from the UK and US have found...
31 January 2012 - by Dr Lux Fatimathas 
Unhealthy lifestyles associated with social deprivation may have detrimental effects on DNA before birth, say scientists. A study of adults living in Glasgow shows a correlation between deprivation and DNA methylation - a normal process that occurs mainly during embryonic development and regulates gene activity...

HAVE YOUR SAY

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions


Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.


 

FDA okays test for many cancer-causing genes

04 December 2017

By Theofanis Michailidis

Page URL: http://www.bionews.org.uk/page_914398.asp Appeared in BioNews 929

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a test which can detect cancer-causing mutations in 324 genes.

The test, known as Foundation One CDX (F1CDx), is the first FDA-approved single genetic test for large range of cancers. F1CDx, made by Foundation Medicine, has the unique attribute of looking for a mutation in hundreds of cancer genes simultaneously, searching for two genomic signatures in any solid tumour type. The results will allow physicians to identify the specific mutations from a patient's tumour sample, and find the most effective treatment.

'With the run of one test, patients and health care professionals can now evaluate several appropriate disease management options,' said Dr Jeffrey Shuren, director of the FDA's Centre for Devices and Radiological Health

The single test will mean there is no need for multiple biopsies for successive, single-gene tests. This can help avoid 'the often invasive process of extracting tumour samples multiple times to determine eligibility for a single treatment or enrolment in a clinical trial', Dr Shuren said. 

FDA Commissioner, Dr Scott Gottlieb, added that the test would give patients faster access to 'a breakthrough diagnostic' test that could 'potentially reduce health care costs'. The Centres for Medicare and Medicaid Services have proposed covering the test. As a result, tumour-gene profiling is likely to become available to a greater number of cancer patients.

Previously, private insurers were reluctant to cover similar tests, because of the lack of satisfactory evidence of benefit, Reuters reports. This is now set to change, as the approval of F1CDx sets a precedent for coverage determinations by private insurers.

'This will be a sea change' for patients, Dr Richard Schilsky, chief medical officer of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, told ABC News.

RELATED ARTICLES FROM THE BIONEWS ARCHIVE

30 May 2017 - by Shaoni Bhattacharya 
The first cancer drug based on a specific genetic feature has been approved by the US drugs regulator...
05 September 2016 - by Meetal Solanki 
A major study into cancer has uncovered fourteen genes which could predict how a patient will respond to tumour treatments, particularly chemotherapy and radiation...
24 August 2015 - by Kirsty Oswald 
Researchers have shown that a skin cancer drug can be used to treat advanced lung cancer in patients whose tumours harbour a particular mutation...

HAVE YOUR SAY

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions


Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.


 

Study gives piercing insight into earlobe genetics

04 December 2017

By Martha Henriques

Page URL: http://www.bionews.org.uk/page_914349.asp Appeared in BioNews 929

A total of 49 genes have been found to influence earlobe shape and attachment, new research has found. 

Earlobe shape is often used as a simple example for how a single gene can determine a physical feature. But even the shape of the humble earlobe is influenced by scores of genes, according to the study, published in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

Scientists at the University of Pittsburgh assessed the earlobe shape of 10,000 study participants, from whom they also collected genetic data. Six genes were linked to earlobe shape, substantially complicating the traditional picture of how genes influence lobe shape.

Looking at an even broader pool of participants, many more genes were found to play a role in earlobe shape. The Pittsburgh researchers used data from the US-based personal genetics company 23andMe. Comparing 65,000 people's earlobe shape and genetic data confirmed the link with those six genes. It also found another 43 genes involved.

'Sometimes the genetics of a fairly simple trait are actually quite complex,' said lead author Dr John Shaffer

As well as shedding light on the complex genetics of a facial feature, the research could have clinical implications further down the line. 

'By understanding that complexity, we can work toward treatments for genetic conditions, several of which have distinct facial features that involve the earlobe, including Mowat-Wilson Syndrome, which can cause cupped ears with protruding lobes,' Dr Shaffer said. 

The study has also contributed to a debate in genetics on how best to identify genes linked to traits such as facial features. Smaller studies with fewer participants – such as the first analysis of 10,000 people – can study fewer genes but in more depth, and potentially find more robust associations. But larger studies can cast the net wider and potentially lead to a more comprehensive picture of which genes influence a particular trait. 

As the larger study successfully picked out the six genes that were found in the smaller one, it suggests the latter approach can be very accurate as well as wide-ranging. The next step is to find out the functions of those genes. 

'We've got these 49 genes that we know affect earlobe attachment, but we don't know how they work together or interact with one another,' said geneticist and biostatistician Professor Eleanor Feingold, a co-author of the study. 'Figuring that out is the next step.'

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Forbes | 30 December 2017
 
UPMC | 30 November 2017
 
American Journal of Human Genetics | 30 December 2017
 

RELATED ARTICLES FROM THE BIONEWS ARCHIVE

11 September 2017 - by Georgia Everett 
Six key genes have been identified in the largest study of premature birth to date...
14 November 2016 - by Matthew Thomas 
The process of natural selection has removed the majority of Neanderthal DNA from the modern human genome, leaving behind a handful of beneficial genes, two recent studies have suggested...
08 February 2016 - by Dr Barbara Kramarz 
Scientists have used data from personal genomics company 23andMe to identify a set of genes that are linked to being a 'morning person'...
24 March 2014 - by Chris Hardy 
A new technique allows scientists to make guesses about what a person's face looks like, by examining just 20 genes in their DNA...

HAVE YOUR SAY

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions


Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.


 

Theatre Review: Of Kith and Kin, Bush Theatre

04 December 2017

By Jennifer Willows

Page URL: http://www.bionews.org.uk/page_914917.asp Appeared in BioNews 929

Of Kith and Kin is a play about surrogacy that seems to have little to say about surrogacy.

Daniel and Oli are a married couple. Daniel is in his mid-40s and Oli in his early 30s. As the play opens the couple are at home, having a 'baby shower' with their dear friend and surrogate Priya who is a few weeks from her due date. The couple are drinking and there is a lot of silliness and laughter.

We learn that Priya introduced the couple. She has her own teenage son and has previously acted as surrogate for her sister – 'I gave birth, she went straight into my sister's arms and we all held each other and, do you know what? I've never been so sure of anything in my life.'

Daniel's mother Lydia turns up unannounced and there is obvious tension between her and Oli, partly because of past slights and class differences but more obviously because Oli holds her responsible for his husband's abusive childhood and subsequent issues. Rather drunk, Oli refuses to ignore Lydia's barbed comments and criticises her openly for the fact that she was a bad mother – something he and Daniel have obviously discussed privately, but that Daniel is not comfortable raising with his mother.

An argument escalates and ends up with Daniel pinning Oli on the sofa, as Priya looks on, realising she has gone into labour.

The second act was, for me, the weak point. It takes place in the courtroom, as we discover Priya did not hand over the baby after the birth, but instead went to stay with her family in Manchester, taking the child.

The magistrate was wonderfully entertaining but her lines seemed more in keeping with a US court drama than a family court in the UK. I feel quite sure that no member of the British judiciary has ever described themselves as 'the mother of all end-of-level baddies' during child custody proceedings.

Daniel allows himself to be riled by Priya's lawyer Ms Kerr's questions and ends up calling her a 'butch ball breaker', swearing at Priya, and having a meltdown: 'Because I will not stand here and be subjected to this prurient and ugly examination of my life, and have intimate details about my family gouged out from me and picked at in this obscene way, because I will tell you something: that's abuse.'

Not only would this sort of behaviour be unlikely to be tolerated in court, but it is made all the more unbelievable by the fact that Daniel is supposedly an experienced solicitor. Daniel's choice to represent himself in such an emotionally charged hearing felt unrealistic. As a legal professional he would certainly have the knowledge to do so, but would surely have the experience to recognise that having a cool-headed counsel who is able to remain objective would be of benefit. Furthermore, Daniel makes a point of telling the court how much wealthier he and Oli are than Priya, so affording representation should not be a problem.

Ultimately the scene compromised believability for the sake of drama, and in doing so lost an opportunity to make a valuable point about how many parents are having to self-represent in court following legal aid cuts in recent years. Daniel's indignation at the questions being asked of him, and his emotionally charged outburst would all feel more authentic coming from a dad who feels at sea in the legal system.

The final act, back in Daniel and Oli's flat, sees the couple address the roots of their differences, and some difficult truths come out. The conversation between the couple in the first half of this act is where Chris Thompson's script really shines. The couple have not fallen out of love, but we see the gulf between their perspectives and their expectations of one another. It is tenderly written and moving. 

The performances were of a good standard. Daniel (James Lance) has the showiest part and felt a little heavy-handed at times. Joanna Bacon was excellent in her dual role as Daniel's infuriating mother and Priya's tenacious lawyer. Chetna Pandya as Priya and Joshua Silver as Oli were both wonderfully natural and relatable, and gently heart-wrenching in the final act.

After the play concluded I wanted to know so much more about Priya. We understand Priya's motives to become a surrogate, but we never hear her reasons for deciding to take the baby after the birth. Although we see the altercation that she sees, her thought process is never explained, as her lawyer does all the talking during the courtroom scene.

Despite bringing the couple together, performing their civil partnership and marriage and bearing their child, ultimately Priya is a narrative means-to-an-end. Her feelings and motivations are sidelined as unimportant to the central narrative of Daniel and Oli's relationship. Perhaps the play does have something to say about surrogacy after all.

SOURCES & REFERENCES

RELATED ARTICLES FROM THE BIONEWS ARCHIVE

11 December 2017 - by Theofanis Michailidis 
A woman who acted as a surrogate for friends has sued the fertility clinic where they were treated, after it transferred one of the unused embryos made using her eggs to impregnate the same couple, without her consent...

02 October 2017 - by Melissa Elsworth 
Why would a woman choose to carry a baby for another person? Should money be involved? Does surrogacy exploit vulnerable women? And what other ethical issues are involved in the surrogacy process?...
18 September 2017 - by Sarah Pritchard 
A married gay male couple in Utah is challenging the state's law that says couples need to prove that a woman is unable to have children before turning to surrogacy...
04 September 2017 - by Sam Everingham 
During the planning of the global non-profit Families Through Surrogacy's first educational event on surrogacy in Sweden a few months ago, IVF professionals had suggested inviting a few leading Swedish infertility specialists. Unfortunately none were willing to attend, stymied by Sweden's conservative regulations around surrogacy...
29 August 2017 - by Jennifer Willows 
At the opening of the play, couple Clem and Josh have decided to pursue surrogacy after suffering multiple miscarriages. We find out that the egg will come from a Russian donor, be fertilised with Josh's sperm, and then implanted in an Indian surrogate...
24 July 2017 - by Natalie Gamble 
As a supporter of surrogacy, I expected the television adaptation of The Handmaid's Tale to be uncomfortable viewing. Margaret Atwood's chilling dystopian novel is well known for being the ultimate warning against surrogacy...

HAVE YOUR SAY

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions


Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.

 

 

Published by the Progress Educational Trust

CROSSING FRONTIERS

Public Conference
London
8 December 2017

Speakers include

Professor Azim Surani

Professor Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz

Professor Robin Lovell-Badge

Sally Cheshire

Professor Guido Pennings

Katherine Littler

Professor Allan Pacey

Dr Sue Avery

Professor Richard Anderson

Dr Elizabeth Garner

Dr Andy Greenfield

Dr Anna Smajdor

Dr Henry Malter

Vivienne Parry

Dr Helen O'Neill

Dr César Palacios-González

Philippa Taylor

Fiona Fox

Sarah Norcross

Sandy Starr


BOOK HERE

Good Fundraising Code

Become a Friend of PET HERE and give the Progress Educational Trust a regular donation