This Week in Bioethics

by Jennifer Lahl, CBC President on April 29, 2016

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1. Coldhearted Sperm “Donor” Glad to No Longer be “Donating”

This story caught my attention because of the sheer callousness it demonstrates in a person who donated his sperm to “help others” have a baby. A happily married father of two who is now a physician laments a law in the U.K. that allows children born of donor sperm or eggs to know their biological identity. He writes, “I am relieved that I donated before 2005 and children conceived using my donated sperm do not have the right to know their parentage. After all, only a minority of them, a discontented minority, feel all their problems in life would be resolved if only they knew who their father was.” So according to him, children don’t have a right to know who their biological parents are—and if they do want to know, it is only because they have some grievance. Not only are his arguments heartless, they are increasingly pointless. As access to DNA testing becomes more and more widespread, the possibility for donors to remain anonymous fades.

2. Let There Be Light!

A new discovery has just revealed that an “explosion of tiny sparks erupts from the egg at the exact moment of conception.” Teresa Woodruff, a researcher at Northwestern University and an ovarian expert (I’ve followed her work on advancements in egg freezing for years), says this is a remarkable finding and will aid fertility medicine in selecting healthy eggs and embryos. While such a use of this new discovery is problematic—it will most likely continue the path of super ovulating women, and both testing and discarding human embryos—it is an amazing discovery that when life begins there is light.

3. Custody Battle Decided in Favor of Gay Couple against Surrogate

American Gordon Lake and his Spanish husband Manuel Santos have won their custody battle for baby Carmen. The baby was born in January 2015, in Thailand from anonymous egg donation, sperm from Lake, and the surrogate womb of Patidta Kusolsang. It has been reported that Kusolsang was concerned about the baby’s wellbeing after learning that the baby was going to a gay couple. Thailand has been at the center of several high-profile surrogacy scandals, which has led to a ban on surrogacy. Gay or straight, married or single, surrogacy continues to demonstrate the many pitfalls in conception by contract. The way forward is for international policies that stop all surrogacy.

4. A Call for Federal Regulation of Sperm Donation

Wendy Kramer, Director of the Donor Sibling Registry, has a piece in Time this week calling for federal regulation of sperm donation. With recent news reports of lawsuits and scandals over people receiving sperm from men with tainted pasts and bad medical histories, Kramer suggests that independent regulatory oversight is needed to ensure “accurate record keeping, limits on the number of children born for any one donor, and compulsory genetic and psychological testing of all donors” and to “protect donors, recipients and offspring.” I understand the desire to address these scandals, but I question whether this will ensure that the children are truly all right.

5. Not Dead Yet Celebrates 20 Years

Disability rights group Not Dead Yet this week marked 20 years of grassroots advocacy opposing the legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia. Working side-by-side with both religious and secular groups, they have provided powerful testimony of the ways in which many of those who are living with disabilities feel the pressure of laws that suggest some lives are not worth living. I’m sure they would be grateful for any anniversary contribution to support their continued efforts.

This Week in Bioethics Archive

Image by Vladimir Stepanov via flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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