This Week in Bioethics

by Matthew Eppinette, CBC Executive Director on June 17, 2016

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1. Surrogacy Bill Becomes Law in Louisiana

Louisiana Governor Edwards has signed into law a bill that makes surrogacy contracts enforceable in his state. Former Louisiana Governor Jindal vetoed similar legislation in 2013 and 2014, and we were hopeful that the new governor and his staff would also be attentive to the strong arguments against such legislation. We will continue to work to educate those in Louisiana and elsewhere on risks and harms of surrogacy and other forms of third-party reproduction (egg donation and sperm donation).

2. Sobering Statistics on Assisted Suicide

With California’s assisted suicide law now in effect, the Los Angeles Times provides a summary of the grim statistics from Oregon’s assisted suicide law. Nearly 1,000 people in that state have died by lethal prescription since its law went into effect in 1998, and nearly every year has seen an increase in assisted suicides. Of course, these statistics only tell part of the story. A study published in the Michigan Law Review found that Oregon’s guidelines were often not followed by doctors, and that state oversight failed to “collect the information [the state] would need to effectively monitor the law.” In addition, overall suicide rates have risen sharply in Oregon since the legalization of physician-assisted suicide. All of this is even more troubling when you notice that the population of California is nearly ten times that of Oregon. The need for education on the problems with assisted suicide and on alternatives like palliative hospice care is all the more pressing.

3. Opposition to California’s Assisted Suicide Law Continues

Meanwhile, at least two efforts are underway to push back against assisted suicide in California. First, a group of California physicians, with the help of the American Academy of Medical Ethics and the Life Legal Defense Foundation, have filed a lawsuit seeking to have the state’s new assisted suicide law overturned. According to the suit, the law is out of step with the equal protection and due process guarantees of the California Constitution because it treats terminally ill people differently than people who are not terminally ill. “Stephen G. Larson, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said that while it’s a felony in California to help or encourage another person to commit suicide, doctors under the law can legally do so for the terminally ill.” Second, a new website has been launched by Californians Against Assisted Suicide and the Patients Rights Action Fund in order to help monitor possible abuses of the law, particularly instances of pressure or coercion, or of insurance denial of coverage for life-sustaining treatment or medication.
The site is located at

4. A Very Weak Defense of the Australian IVF Industry

Australian financial journalist Graham Witcomb published a piece defending IVF companies Virtus Health, Monash IVF, and Genea against concerns raised in a recent Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) report entitled “The Baby Business.” The report raised questions about the costs of IVF, whether women and couples were given realistic pictures of their chances of success, whether expensive but unproven treatments are being sold, and ultimately whether the goal of the IVF industry is simply making money. Witcomb’s response addresses the issue of whether women over 40 are told their chances of having a baby are very low (he argues they are told) as well as the issue of government contributions to the cost of IVF (he argues funding should be increased). He concludes that the ABC report “was just plain irresponsible journalism.” On the whole he does not address the issue of unproven treatments being sold, nor the overall place of the profit motive in what has become a half a billion dollar industry in Australia. Interestingly, the disclosure at the end of the article reveals, “The author owns shares in Virtus Health and Monash IVF,” two of the companies he is defending in his piece. This disclosure along with his failure to address other substantial concerns raised in the ABC report make his response very much less than convincing.

5. Global Bioethics

A doctor in China is proposing full body transplants, although he is not setting forth a timetable for doing so. Almost all of the scientists and ethicists interviewed are skeptical, at best, that such a thing can be accomplished. But the episode highlights important issues regarding bioethics in China.

“The Chinese system is not transparent in any way,” said Arthur L. Caplan, a medical ethicist at New York University. “I do not trust Chinese bioethical deliberation or policy. Add healthy doses of politics, national pride and entrepreneurship, and it is tough to know what is going on.”

The variation in ethical standards from country to country is an issue in surrogacy as well, which is why we have sought to work with other, like-minded groups through regional and global bodies such as the European Parliament and the United Nations in order to ensure that people everywhere are protected from harms.

This Week in Bioethics Archive

Image by Jean-François Gornet via flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)


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