This Week in Bioethics #101

by Matthew Eppinette, CBC Executive Director on March 2, 2018

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1. The Importance of Origins

Writing in Harper’s Bazaar, a woman narrates her story of becoming a mother through egg ‘donation,’ ( a topic we at CBC have covered extensively). Even though this article isn’t about surrogacy, the author makes some important comments about the connection between fetus and “gestational carrier:”

I felt by carrying the baby in my body, my baby would become “mine” . . . In fact, my gut instinct on this point is the subject of a burgeoning field, called fetal origins research. According to Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape The Rest Of Our Lives, mother and child are intimately linked during pregnancy, and conditions in utero play a major role in creating a foundation for health, intelligence, and temperament. A pregnant woman’s daily life—the air she breathes, the food and drink she consumes, the emotions she feels and the chemicals she is exposed to are shared with the fetus . . . While I was pregnant, my fetus would, in some way, experience my thoughts and emotions (a woman’s mental state has been shown to affect fetal development). The baby would hear me, smell me and even taste my food.

And to think . . . in most surrogacy situations, the baby is immediately removed from the presence of the woman who carried him or her, often to never see, hear, or feel her again. It boggles the mind. This is why we say, #StopSurrogacyNow!

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2. The Realities of Infertility Treatment

A play highlighting the realities of egg freezing, IVF, and what some might call the infertility-industrial complex is set to premiere this summer in London. “Its writer, Jemma Kennedy, said her experience of private IVF treatment was so bad she felt compelled to write a play.”

It is a very charged time and I came out of the experience feeling brutalised. It was nothing physical . . . Nobody sat me down and said: ‘Have you really thought about why you are doing this? What are the options? Where are you with your partner? Can you afford it? What’s going to happen if it doesn’t work?’ It all just felt like a business transaction, and that’s what I felt was brutal.

. . .

She believes the IVF industry trades on fear and hope. “Nobody did anything illegal,” she said of her experience. “Ultimately they are a business, but they masquerade in this feminist narrative of helping women preserve their reproduction, and frankly I just don’t buy it.”

Make no mistake, the treatment of infertility — egg and sperm ‘donation,’ egg freezing, IVF and other reproductive technologies, surrogacy, etc. — is an enormous, multi-billion dollar per year, global business. The realities Ms. Kennedy’s play means to highlight very much need to be brought fully out into the light of day. Good on her!

3. Opening Up a DNA Pandora’s Box

Our Anonymous Father’s Day facebook page this week posted an update on the case of the Indiana fertility doctor who appears to have used his own sperm to impregnate at least 50 of his patients over the years. The children, most of whom are now grown, are finding and getting in touch with one another, largely through the use of direct-to-consumer DNA testing.

this DNA discovery has left emotional scars, too. For the three public faces of this unique club, it’s been a wrenching experience.

. . .

Harmon, who was linked to Ballard through a 23andMe test, always believed she had a biological bond with her father. “Then, 35 years later, for that to be ripped away from you…I’ve lost my entire identity”

. . .

“Most of these people who are taking these tests have no idea that they have just opened up Pandora’s box”

As Barry, a donor conceived man who is also a filmmaker, says in our film, “Secrets are like landmines, you never know when they’re going to go off.”

4. Why We Make Films

An article this week in The Guardian’s G2 takes Olympic diver Tom Daley to task over his use of a surrogate mother. Specifically, he seems unaware that there is an ethical dimension to surrogacy.

It’s not clear how much consideration Daley and Black have given the issue [of surrogacy]. In an interview on the Attitude Heroes podcast, Black noted that, while planning for a child, the pair had been surprised to find that commercial surrogacy – which is legal in certain American states – was illegal in the UK. It had been “a bit of a shock”, he said, that the UK, which is more progressive than the US, hadn’t made commercial surrogacy legal. I didn’t get any sense from Black on the podcast that they had suffered great angst over employing a surrogate. He didn’t acknowledge the ethical dimensions of surrogacy. Personally, I find that a bit of a shock.

This is why we make the films we make: so that people will pause to first of all recognize that practices like egg ‘donation,’ sperm ‘donation,’ and, yes, surrogacy raise important ethical issues. And second, so that people will give due consideration to those ethical issues, which we believe should convince people not to participate in them.

If you haven’t seen our films, this weekend might be the perfect time to binge watch them! They are all available online:
Compassion and Choice DENIED: available free of charge on Facebook and YouTube
Maggie’s Story — available on Amazon, free with Prime
Breeders: A Subclass of Women? — available on Amazon, free with Prime
Anonymous Father’s Day — available on Amazon, free with Prime
Eggsploitation — available on Amazon, iTunes, and Google Play
Lines That Divide —  available on Vimeo

5. Limits or Not?

We mentioned last week the Japanese man who has fathered at least 13 children through surrogacy in Thailand. Singapore’s Straits Times this week has more information on the man, including his stated desire to have 10-15 babies each year until he dies.

Upon hearing this, one surrogacy agency refused to continue working with him and even “warned Interpol about him, writing ‘something is very wrong here.’”’

The reason I highlight this again is because the question this report raises for me is why? Why is something very wrong here? On what basis is the surrogacy agency making this assertion? Why is it ok for someone to use a woman to have a baby or to have twins, but not to have 10-15 babies each year?

I’m not trying to be facetious. There’s a certain way in which surrogacy, and much of infertility treatment, is about denying limits (see #2 above, for example). In addition, those of us who would question whether surrogacy should even be allowed are told that they are bigots or are dismissed for any variety of reasons — we’re socialists, we’re feminists, we’re religious, we’re simply small-minded. But if there are to be limits, any limits at all, it’s worth exploring not only what those limits might be, but on what basis we might decide. Perhaps the basis of what’s best for the children? What’s good for the health and wellbeing of women?  


How about an update on our latest film? We’ve hired a terrific editor, and we’re currently working with him to tighten the story, craft the narration, and construct the “b-roll” visuals for the film. We still have a ways to go and many, many hours of work left to do. But we could not have gotten to this point without the faithful support of so many people. We’re excited about pushing this project through to the finish line and releasing it later this year. Stay tuned, you do not want to miss this.

This Week in Bioethics Archive

Photo by Nahuel Hawkes on Unsplash


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