In a first-of-its-kind twist, a mother is donating her frozen eggs in the hopes that they may one day help her daughter give birth.
Because the eggs belong to the mother, though, the possibility exists that the girl could someday give birth to her biological half-brother or half-sister.
Some doctors say such a prospect is an unsettling one.
"I have great concerns about this development," said Dr. Jeffrey L. Deaton, a reproductive endocrinologist and medical director of Premier Fertility Center in High Point, N.C.
"If the goal is to provide her with a family, why not make it less ethically challenging and consider either donor eggs or adoption? Our technology is progressing more rapidly than our ability to understand the social, ethical and religious ramifications."
While some are bothered by the development, most ethicists and fertility experts say such concerns are largely unwarranted.
"The dilemma of giving birth to one's genetic sister I think is overdone," said Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
"I suspect parents will adapt quickly, as do adoptive parents who raise their sister's kids, or even a younger sibling."
"Those who object would probably have objected to the invention of fire by mankind hundreds of thousands of years ago, and they definitely would have had moral problems … with [in-vitro fertilization] in general when these shocking new ideas first came upon the scene," said Dr. Sherman Silber, the medical director of the Infertility Center of St. Louis at St. Luke's Hospital.
The donation by Melanie Boivin, 35, from Montreal, was prompted by the fact that her 7-year-old daughter, Flavie, has Turner's syndrome -- a genetic condition that carries an almost certain chance of infertility.
The idea is that one or more of the 21 eggs harvested from Melanie could be fertilized and implanted into Flavie if and when she decides she wants to have a child. The plan offers what could be a more reliable approach than relying on an unrelated donor, which could entail several years on a waiting list for eggs.
Ethicist Bill Allen, director of the Program in Bioethics at the University of Florida College of Medicine, says that he sees no inherent ethical problem in such a situation.
"The language critics use to make this sound as if something terrible is going on," said Allen. "The notion that if Flavie Boivin uses her mother's donated eggs to bear a child, that child will be her offspring and her 'half' sibling at the same time, distorts the issue in a way that is sensational and mostly irrelevant."
"If Flavie were to use her mother's eggs, the child that would be born to her would be her son or daughter and would have a child-mother relationship with Flavie. The child would not relate to its mother, Flavie, as a half-sibling, but as a mother," he said.
Other ethicists say that the case at hand presents a far lesser set of ethical considerations than other reproductive technology advances that have garnered attention in the past.
"Personally, I find this act less worrisome than egg selling at exorbitant prices, or many other moral practices that cause immediate harm to women and to children," said Laurie Zoloth, director of the Center for Bioethics, Science and Society at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.