Rasita Vinay, M. Bioethics Candidate, GBI Intern

The pioneering of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) in 1977 has greatly helped women around the world to overcome their infertility issues. From providing women with a chance to become pregnant, to its continuous advancement in embryo research and the development of other assisted reproductive technology (ART), IVF is paving the way for stem cell research and greater understanding of human reproduction.

However, with the abundance of technologies and resources, we start to challenge the boundaries of medical practice and its ethical considerations.

The discovery of CRISPR/Cas9 has allowed scientists to edit genes according to the desirability of a particular gene or as a way to prevent certain hereditary diseases. These babies are termed as “designer babies”, and as questioned by Clyde Haberman of the New York Times, leads us to wonder whether this is a valuable tool to benefit society or if they pose possibly frightening consequences.

A couple in the UK, who lost their 26 year old son in a motorcycle accident, asked for a urologist to retrieve his sperm and have it immediately frozen. Due to strict UK laws, the sperm was transported to Dr Smotrich’s IVF clinic in La Jolla, California. The couple used gender selection techniques to “create a male heir” using donor eggs and a surrogate mother. As gender selection is illegal in the UK, legal experts have advised that UK practitioners who aided in this procedure have committed a criminal act and could be prosecuted. Furthermore, extracting sperm posthumously without consent can also be considered a criminal offence. The advent of ART technologies brings us to question, however if we should grow both ethically and legally, in symbiosis with the advancements and improvements of technology. As Michael Cook of BioEdge says, “if the technology is there, why not use it?”

Children being created through IVF using sperm retrieved posthumously may be a rarity, but it certainly is a reality. As reported by Klein and Licea of New York Post, there have been numerous accounts of such sperm retrievals in the United States, where there are no federal laws to mandate these procedures or situations. In the absence of governmental regulation, hospitals and medical institutions alike have contrived their own guidelines for posthumous sperm retrieval (PSR). Granting such retrieval requests open up an ethical minefield for hospitals and medical practitioners, raising questions on who, if anyone, may consent and whether these respect the procreative rights of the deceased. The National Centre for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) claims that the welfare of the potential child also needs to be considered before honouring sperm retrieval after death, and this should be the overriding concern for all parties involved.

Humanity is moving on from evolution by natural selection (Darwinism) and becoming more programmable. Technology continues to change the course of human reproduction and development, but as moral agents, we should be cautious in the way we decide to exercise this kind of power and refrain from exploiting such medical advances.

 

(To learn more about the UK case, please read here)

___________________________________

Rasita Vinay is a current Master of Bioethics student at Monash University, Australia, having previously completed her Bachelor of Science (Neuroscience) at the University of Melbourne. She is an intern for Global Bioethics Initiative and is hoping to expand her bioethical knowledge to obtain a more global perspective.