The perceived 'right to have a child' has reduced the child to an object. With IVF, the child becomes subject to quality control and ownership.
- Selective reduction is suggested if more than one or two embryos implant.
- It has been proposed that eggs and ovarian tissue from aborted females be used as donor tissue for infertile women.
- This raises the question as to the legal status of a child, conceived from donor eggs, and his or her right to information about the genetic 'mother.'
- IVF techniques are now big business and have been accused of having a 'robotic' nature and being obsessed with making money.
- Doctors are less interested in finding ways of curing infertility and sterility.
The first step in an IVF procedure is to obtain a healthy egg from the woman. A technician then places the egg in a Petrie dish filled with a nutrient solution and exposes it for half a day to a few drops of semen. If the egg is fertilised it is monitored for proper growth. At the third or fourth day, the doctor inserts the embryo into the woman's uterus.
Embryos that may appear to be defective are discarded as biological waste.
The chances of a single transplanted embryo surviving the entire IVF are quite slim. This is why IVF clinics routinely use fertility drugs so the donor woman produces several ripe eggs for harvesting. Even with multiple eggs, the success rate per IVF cycle is only about 10-15%.
Many IVF enterprises transfer several embryos in order to increase their
chances of success.
Multiple pregnancy results in prematurity and low birth weight babies which, in turn, can result in disabilities. Less than perfect babies born with the assistance of IVF technology would result in a negative public perception of IVF treatments. Some clinics ask women to sign a form agreeing to selective reduction if more than two embryos successfully implant.
Sometimes all of the embryos implant. When a multiple pregnancy occurs the doctors suggest the pregnancy be 'reduced,' which is a euphemism for abortion. The selected foetusus are injected in the heart, usually with potassium chloride, and are reabsorbed by the mother's body. Another euphemism used in IVF clinics is 'enhanced survival of multifoetal pregnancies,' or ESMP for short.
Opponents argue that with IVF, the child has been reduced to an object, or a product that has become subject to quality control and 'ownership.' This, they say, is contrary to the dignity and nature of the child.
In the US, Alison Miller and Todd Parrish sought fertility services and successfully created one fertilised egg. A clinic worker later discarded it "in error." Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey Lawrence ruled "a pre-embryo is a 'human being' within the ... Wrongful Death Act and that a claim lies for its wrongful destruction whether or not it is implanted in its mother's womb."
Judge Lawrence wrote, "Philosophers and theologians may debate, but there is no doubt in the mind of the Illinois legislature when life begins. It begins at conception."
John Mayoue, an Atlanta family attorney who has written extensively on in vitro law and ethics, told the Chicago Daily Herald "There are hundreds of thousands of embryos frozen in clinics, are we then going to elevate those clinics to the status of an orphanage?
Mayoue considers it illogical that embryos are regarded as property for certain purposes and life for others.
Most couples, having successfully created their family, may have surplus embryos that they will not be using. While some of these couples are uncomfortable with the idea of someone else raising their biological offspring, others are troubled by the thought of destroying the leftover embryos. One woman who chose to have her embryos put into deep-freeze storage (cryopreservation) said, "I was distressed over the fact that our embryos were just in storage and I felt convicted that they deserved a chance to be born."
Some countries have laws that state embryos should be destroyed after a certain number of years.
In America the Snowflake Embryo Adoption Program uses traditional adoption methods to find homes for abandoned embryos. ( Snowflake "because embryos are unique, they're fragile, and of course, they're frozen" says the programme's originator Ron Stoddart.)
Many couples find the idea of donating surplus embryos to other infertile couples is appealing because it gives childless couples an opportunity for pregnancy and parenthood.
Ova and Ovarian Tissue Use in IVF Treatments
Dr Roger Gosden, an internationally renowned scientist who has helped to pioneer reproductive biology and innovative medical treatments for infertility, has proposed the use of ovarian tissue, including ova, be taken from aborted female foetuses to treat infertile women.
Dr. Gosden would harvest egg cells from aborted foetuses at the 12-16 week stage. The eggs would then be fertilised by in vitro methods and implanted into previously sterile women. These women are women born with few egg cells in their ovaries or have gonadal dysgenesis (i.e. never developed ovaries).
Transplants of foetal follicular cells (i.e. cells which produce the ovarian hormones, estrogen and progesterone) would be used to restore the production of estrogen to prevent menopausal women from osteoporosis and the increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Furthermore, it would restore the fertility of women that had prematurely undergone menopause, thereby assuring them extended years of child bearing.
After six months of deliberation and debate, the British governing body, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) decided that the time was not yet right to licence the proposal.
The role of bio-ethicists to determine public policy in medical ethics has been challenged by philosophers such as Anne MacLean, author of The Elimination of Morality: Reflections on Utilitarianism and Bioethics.
She argues that a philosophical training confers no special authority to make pronouncements about moral issues, and proposes that pure utilitarianism eliminates the essential ingredients of moral thinking.
"All [leading] bioethicists," claims Maclean, accept "some version of utilitarianism." Generally stated, utilitarians hold that "what people want is the ultimate measure of right and wrong."
The acceptance or restriction on using ova that has been harvested from an aborted female foetus in IVF treatments will largely depend on public opinion, which at present does not support such use.
It is obvious that methods of abortion necessary to obtain ovarian tissue could not dismember the foetus, or leave a long period between the death of the foetus and "harvesting." As in other organ donations, a "live" body is the optimum condition.
This means that the only suitable methods of abortion would be hysterotomy and removal of an intact foetus, or a vaginal delivery of an infant not killed in utero by saline beforehand.
Questions have been posed as to what the legal status would be of a child born from a biological mother, who has another genetically true mother (the foetus).
Adopted children, as adults, frequently seek out the true identity of their biological parents. This information is considered a 'right' and has been extended to cover those children born from donated sperm.
If this technology is used there is the possibility that 'genetically adopted' children will want to find out who their 'real mother' (tissue donor) is, which could lead them to their biological 'grandmother.' This could be traumatic for a woman who aborted her child to be confronted with a 'grandchild.'
British Professor Robert Winston, “father of the test-tube baby”, is well-known as a frontman for popular medical television documentaries. In a 2000 interview with the Italian newspaper “Avvenire”, Winston, a 1960s pioneer of artificial insemination, complained that IVF techniques are now big business and are often carried out by women who, with the right treatment, would be able to conceive naturally.
As a result, doctors no longer look into the ways of curing infertility or sterility. For example, each IVF operation is performed outside the National Health Service and costs around US$3,000.
“Avvenire” questioned Italian doctors and scientists to see if they agree with Prof Winston’s comments.
Professor Salvatore Mancuso, director of the Gynaecology Institute of the Catholic University of Rome said: “It is true, we often help women who are frustrated after many failures but who, when they receive the right diagnosis, are able to conceive naturally, without the need for gynaecological laboratories.”
Claudio Brigante, director of the Physiopathology of Reproduction Center of Milan’s St Raphael Hospital, stressed the importance of meticulous and through research in each case. “Everything Prof Winston has denounced has happened in Italy as well. It is often easier to decide on artificial insemination, especially when the couple themselves ask for it, and it is difficult for the doctors to deny their request.”
“A certain robotic nature has been created in patients and doctors. It should be remembered that what gives the best results, is a correct diagnostic and therapeutic procedure.”
Prof Salvatore Mancuso explained that “Prof Winston’s own research has proved that microsurgery to reconstruct the Fallopian tubes, sometimes leads to far better results than would be possible with artificial insemination, where the embryo is literally ‘thrown’ into the uterus, and the probability of its being properly implanted is 15% or less.”
“There are very important areas for further research. We know very little about the conditions that favour pregnancy at its beginning, about the habitat that the embryo finds naturally, and about how it communicates with the mother’s body.”
About one million babies have been born worldwide as a result of IVF. Millions more have been destroyed either before or after implantation.
A Committee of British Members of Parliament recommended that the parents of IVF babies should be allowed the right to create designer babies. A report by the all-party Commons science and technology committee said parents having fertility treatment should have the right to decide the sex of the embryo to be implanted.
Discounting the experience in China, India and Korea, a member of the committee said: "There is very little evidence that allowing parents to choose the sex of their child would have any imbalancing effect on society."
Committee members admitted that the report, Human Reproductive Technologies and the Law, would be considered "radical" by many people.
Arguing that parents are in effect already choosing the physical characteristics of future offspring when they choose their partner, some committee members believe that in the past there has been too much emotional and religious involvement, and that science and medicine need to have a bigger part in the debate.
The committee were split over the recommendations, with a minority saying that the report had "not taken enough account of public opinion and ethical arguments."
Lord Winston, professor at the department for reproductive medicine at Hammersmith Hospital, London, said: "In vitro fertilisation is too complicated, too expensive and too involved for parents just wanting to choose the sex of their baby."
Another of the controversial elements is the committee's contention that parents undergoing fertility treatment should be allowed to choose "disease-free" embryos.
The Report said that the human cloning ban should be re-considered, and that the cloning of human embryos should be allowed for medical purposes.
The MPs also suggest that scientists should be allowed to implant human embryos into animals for research.
"Beyond animal welfare arguments, it is not clear why this should be any more unacceptable than flushing the embryo down the sink, which is its likely alternative fate."
Dr David King, director of Human Genetics Alert, said: "The kind of ethics we see in this report, which is incapable of saying a clear "no" to anything, is no ethics at all. The extreme bias discredits the committee and the political cause it is espousing."
Opponents say the criteria for obtaining IVF treatment is already too relaxed and makes the acquisition of a human life similar to a "couture product".
There are fears that the acceptance of this report will further eliminate certain ethical boundaries, opening the door to the type of genetic engineering that would far surpass Hitler's dream of a 'super-race' of humans.