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IVF Ethics

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IVF has always been controversial, Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards were faced with scores of people claiming things like ' they were playing God' and that 'any babies produced would not have a soul'. Fortunately when Louise Brown was born and people saw a healthy baby, many of these issues were forgotten. However, as IVF technology develops more and more ethical questions are raised.

IVF is now clearly accepted by the majority of the population and looking back on recent IVF history it does seem that ethical considerations and opinions are changing. Just a few years ago treatment for single women and lesbian couples was very difficult to find, as was sex selection, now it is easily possible to find clinics who will accomodate these wishes.

The following questions are not answered (occasionally points of interest are added in italic blue). Comments are invited below.

IVF Issues

At what point should pre-embryos/embryos be considered to have human rights? Is "creating", discarding, freezing, or manipulating them right?

Pope Benedict XVI stated in June 2006,

  • " The human being has the right to be generated, not produced, to come to life not in virtue of an artificial process but of a human act in the full sense of the term: the union between a man and a woman".
  • " Never before in history has human procreation, and therefore the family, which is its natural place, been so threatened as in today's culture. Procreation must always take place within the family."
  • " They need to be aware that true love is only that which comes from the union of a man and a woman."
  • " A true family comes from the union of two people from different sexes."

Who should decide what is appropriate in IVF? Politicians? The Church? Scientists?

Should single women be allowed access to IVF in order to have children? Is there a need for a father? Should homosexual male or female couples be allowed access to IVF treatment in order to have children?

UK MPs (June 2006) have called for an end to the right of fertility clinics to refuse treatment to single women and lesbians. The debate was triggered by the Commons science and technology committee report in 2005 on the issue, who described the current rules regarding unconventional families as "offensive".

Is it responsible to allow so many multiple pregnancies or reductions due to IVF treatment?

UK law now tries to limit this and only permits a maximum of 2 embryos to be transferred except in very special circumstances.

Who should be responsible for funding IVF? Patients? Insurance companies? Healthcare systems?

How long should embryos be allowed to be frozen? If they go past that time should they be destroyed? Should frozen embryos be destroyed if patients stop paying the storage fees?


Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD).

PGD is used to test embryos prior to transfer into the uterus. Part of the embryo is used for this procedure and is removed from the embryo. This selection of "healthy" embryos is sometimes referred to in news articles as "Designer Embryos". So should PGD be used at all?

Should PGD be used only for detecting very serious, life threatening conditions and not for minor genetic abnormalities?

This is the current advise of the Human Fertilisation and Embryo Authority, UK.

Is it OK to genetically select an embryo which would be a near perfect match for a sibling with a life threatening disorder?

Should PGD be only available to those who can afford it?

Is sex selection wrong? Is selecting embryos with certain traits or characteristics wrong?


Cloning and Stem cells

Is there ever a case where human reproductive cloning is acceptable? The production of a new life? Replacing a dead child?

Is it OK to use cloning technology to create stem cells (therapeutic cloning) to help cure disease?

Should cloning research be regulated? Who should police it? Can this be achieved on a global basis?

If potential parents can only have a child through cloning do they have that right?

What are the physical and psychosocial consequences of cloning on the child? What is the impact on familial and societal relations? What will be the potential effects on the human gene pool?

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