This Week in Bioethics #102

by Matthew Eppinette, CBC Executive Director on March 9, 2018

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1. Welcome to GATTACA

The United Arab Emirates’ Khaleej Times reports on the near future of reproductive technologies.

Genetic engineering of the embryo could mean that people will soon be able to produce ‘super babies.’

“People can start modifying embryos, for example, activating certain genes and replacing others or like removing all defective genes that could cause cancer or other illnesses such as diabetes and dyslipidemia and replacing them with other genes,” said Clancey Po, New Medical Centre’s (NMC) director of corporate operations strategy.

He also said that people can start choosing genes that increase mental intelligence, physical build, eye colour, hair color and so on.

“We believe that in the near future we could witness artificial surrogates where embryos would be carried to term in incubators rather than mothers,” he added.

In the article there is no discussion of whether any of this is ethical, what it means for the citizens and residents of the UAE or the broader human family, or even whether any of it is a good idea. It is simply taken for granted that the ability to make these kinds of choices is a good thing.

It. Is. Not.

Rather, as Paul Ramsey warned us many years ago (and Brent Waters reminded us at the 2016 Ramsey Dinner), “it is perilous to transform the natural procreation of children into reproductive projects . . . ”

Watch Jennifer Lahl and Matthew Eppinette live discussion of This Week in Bioethics

2. Misguided Surrogacy Guidance in the UK

In spite of the fact that surrogacy arrangements are not legally binding in the United Kingdom, their Department of Health and Social Care — with the assistance of Sarah Jones from Surrogacy UK (natch) — has issued guidance on “how to start a family using a surrogate.” Because of the differing ways in which the courts in Scotland and Northern Ireland work, this guidance is only for those living in England and Wales.

Ms. Jones is quoted as saying, “It is vital that we help surrogates, intended parents, and children to have a positive experience and that we support this modern form of family building.”

But in what ways does this help children have a positive experience of surrogacy? Moreover, given the risks of surrogacy, and of third-party assisted reproduction, how can anything other than the total prohibition of surrogacy truly protect the women who serve as surrogate mothers and the children they carry, bear, and hand over? Beyond that, for what reasons and in what ways is it “vital” that such modern family building be supported? On what basis is such a claim asserted? This is nothing more than an expression of preference. It is in no way an ethical argument.

True guidance would steer people toward recognizing the good reasons why surrogacy contracts are not enforceable in the UK and therefore away from using the bodies of women and commodifying the lives of children. #StopSurrogacyNow

3. Skype Interview with a Surrogate Mother

Jennifer recently spoke via Skype with a woman who contacted us last fall while in the midst of a surrogacy situation that had taken a difficult turn. They spoke for about 25 minutes, and we believe this is an important account of how, even when everyone goes in with only the best of intentions, things can still go painfully wrong. Please have a watch and then let us know what you think of the interview and of this interview format.

4. What are We Becoming?

As you may recall, Jennifer has twice this year provided expert testimony on the realities of surrogacy to members of the Washington State legislature (on January 17 and on February 22). Unfortunately, that bill, The Uniform Parentage Act, has passed both chambers and been signed into law by Gov. Inslee.

Washington State Representative Liz Pike said,

“I’m disgusted that such a bill would ever be considered let alone pass. What have we become as a state, selling human babies to the highest bidder? Is this who we are?”

Thank you Rep. Pike for speaking out about the awful realities of surrogacy.

5. Canadian Prisoner Euthanized, More to Follow

In 2016, Canada amended its criminal code to allow Medical Assistance in Dying or MAID. In what seems to be the first ever case of its kind, a Canadian federal prison inmate recently died with “medical assistance.” At least two other prisoners have been approved to receive “MAID,” and at least five other requests are pending.

Keep in mind that Canada has no death penalty, and in fact the last execution in the country took place in 1962. In addition, a recent report by the Correctional Service Canada (CSC) contains a section on suicide deaths in federal custody that includes information on efforts to identify potentially suicidal prisoners in order to prevent deaths by suicide.

It is in this context that prisoners may now choose to have “assistance” with their deaths. Under Canadian law this means “a physician or nurse practitioner who: directly administers a substance that causes death, such as an injection of a drug . . . or provides or prescribes a drug that the eligible person takes themselves, in order to bring about their own death.”

This simply does not add up. Either we are concerned about suicide among prisoners or we are not. The same, of course, is true for suicide generally. The simple truth is that the legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia undermines all other efforts at suicide prevention (see, for example, this study from the Southern Medical Journal). To be clear: we should do more to prevent suicide, and this should include rejecting any and all notions of assisted suicide and euthanasia.

Lagniappe

Jennifer was in New York most of the week for meetings in conjunction with the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women. She had a series of productive meetings, spoke at the UN, and is working to expand our coalition efforts at stopping surrogacy. Watch the video above for more from Jennifer on her week in New York.

This Week in Bioethics Archive

Photo by Paul Bergmeir on Unsplash

 

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