This Week in Bioethics

by Jennifer Lahl and Matthew Eppinette on August 12, 2016

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1. When is it Too Old to Have a Baby?

Another post-menopausal woman (age 62), along with her 78 year old partner, has just given birth, making her Australia’s oldest mother, thanks to IVF. The Australian Medical Association has denounced this birth as “selfish and wrong” with no consideration for the child’s best interest. This is in addition to the considerable health risks for a woman of advanced maternal age and the baby she is carrying. IVF treatments in Australia are cut off for women at age 53 since that is the age of “natural menopause.” One expert said there is no legal barrier to seeking IVF at later ages, but to us it seems clear that doctors should refuse such requests.

2. Why do We Allow Incentives for Disconnecting Human Lives from Parents, Heritage, and History?

Speaking of smelling things down under, Australian officials at the National Health and Research Council are warning IVF clinics that they are not allowed to pay fixed prices for eggs and sperm. In Australia, those who donate their gametes are only allowed to have “reasonable expenses” reimbursed. Truly paying donors is seen as inducement, which under Australian federal law can be punished with up to 15 years of jail time. Unfortunately, however, the laws are not clear on what constitutes reasonable expenses. Pro-fertility-industry voices argue the demand for egg and sperm are high, so clinics are offering payment to meet the demand. Others point out that organ donors are not paid nor are people paid for blood donations. “Why then are we allowing IVF clinics to incentivise the relinquishment of sperm, eggs, and embryos, which equates to a human life being disconnected from their parents . . . cultural heritage [and] medical history.”

3. Dear Colorado: Death Doesn’t Cure Anything

Colorado was, thankfully, able to stop a bill seeking to legalize physician assisted suicide last year. Proponents of a Colorado End-of-Life Options Act have gathered signatures and are moving forward again. Our good friends at Not Dead Yet and ADAPT organized a protest at the Secretary of State’s office to make it clear that “Death doesn’t cure anything.” We will be watching developments in Colorado closely, and will help educate on and push back against this bad bill in whatever ways we can.  

4. Newsweek Fail

A brief piece from Newsweek provides an overview of both current and coming treatments for infertility, but makes absolutely no mention of the health risks, the unknowns, or the ethical questions that arise in any of them. All are treated simply as options available, which can simply be selected depending on need or desire. Such thin reporting is worse than unhelpful; it is misleading. There is much more involved, much more that deserves to be considered, as Dr. Brent Waters reminded us at this year’s Ramsey Dinner:

Ramsey foresaw much of this in his work on what was then the new reproductive technologies and breakthroughs in genetics that seemingly promised a day when parents could design more desirable children. Ramsey warned that it is perilous to transform the natural procreation of children into reproductive projects, for in the latter, offspring are effectively reduced to artifacts of the parents’ will; children are made rather than begotten.

Why is this perilous? Because the relationship between maker and made is far different than a relationship based on the equality of being, and of being only human. He warned that the value of humans cannot be increased by presumably making them more desirable, but rather, humans are to be cherished simply for who they are. Ramsey’s voice still beckons us to ponder how much further down the road of artifice should we travel.

5. Eggsploitation and Maggie’s Story Selected for Film Festival

Both of our films on the topic of egg donation — feature-length Eggsploitation and short film Maggie’s Storyhave been named Official Selections of the Silicon Valley International Film Festival. We could not have made and distributed these important films without your help and support, without you, our friends, standing by us and backing us. Now even more people will get to see these films and hear their messages on the health, safety, and other issues that arise with egg “donation.” THANK YOU!!

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