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The Ethics of Sperm Freezing for Teenage Boys

A few weeks ago, I attended the annual
Oncofertility Consortium conference
where Dr. Angel Petropanagos and I
presented our poster “Teen Boys and Fertility Preservation: An Ethical
  The vast majority of
discussions about fertility preservation (FP), particularly FP for “social” (aka
nonmedical) reasons, are focused on women in part because FP for women raises
more ethical issues.
  For instance, egg
freezing carries more health risks and is generally less effective than sperm
freezing. Furthermore, whereas sperm freezing has been an established method of
FP for decades, it was only two years ago that the American Society for
Reproductive Medicine lifted the experimental label from egg freezing.

Yet, even established technologies can raise ethical
concerns when used in vulnerable groups, such as children. Our research project
examines the ethical issues FP raises when used by teenage boys.
  In order to undergo sperm freezing, males
must produce a sperm sample and this is usually done through masturbation.
However, discussions about masturbation can be embarrassing and difficult for
adolescent males (as well as for healthcare providers), particularly if they
have never masturbated or never masturbated and achieved an ejaculation. Some
parents and healthcare providers place a high value on preserving patients’
future option of genetic reproduction, but FP discussions with teen males can
be especially challenging due to the sensitive and private nature of sexuality
and reproduction. In many cases, the embarrassment experienced by teens who
consider FP can serve as a serious barrier to the effective delivery of FP
information, can undermine informed decision-making, and can also be a
deterrent from choosing FP technologies. There is considerable debate over the
extent to which teenager’s dissent to FP should be respected, especially in
light of the likelihood that they may eventually come to regret opting out of

How hard should parents and healthcare providers push teen
boys to pursue FP? We argue that parents and physicians are obligated to
initiate FP discussions and push adolescent males harder than adolescent
females. This is because gamete retrieval for males involves less bodily
invasion and fewer health risks. In addition, it’s likely that males who
undergo FP will experience significantly less social pressures to reproduce
than females who use FP so coercion concerns are not as strong for males as
females. At the same time, however, fatherhood, including biological
fatherhood, is becoming more important for many men and FP is a relatively easy
and effective way to enhance adolescent males’ reproductive autonomy. As such,
male FP is relatively low-risk, but offers a high potential for benefits. We
maintain that FP discussions must be gender/sex-sensitive and plan to develop
methods for promoting the effective and ethical communication about FP for
males. Our analysis aims to balance the prevalent social desires to have
genetically-related without reinforcing the social norm that having children,
especially biological children, is a necessary component to a good life.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI’s online graduate programs, please visit our website.

This entry was posted in Health Care, Reproductive Ethics and tagged , , . Posted by Hayley Dittus-Doria. Bookmark the permalink.

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