Hot Topics: Reproductive Medicine

Blog Posts (80)

January 28, 2016

My Child, Your Womb

Gestational surrogacy contracts have been in the news again recently as a gestational surrogate reports that the intended father, having discovered that she is expecting triplets, is demanding that she undergo selective reduction to abort one of the fetuses.  Situations such as these, while often not reported, are not necessarily uncommon.  In 2013, a gestational carrier was offered $10,000 to abort when a second trimester ultrasound discovered congenital heart and brain abnormalities.  Despite a well-established Constitutional right to privacy that includes a pregnant woman’s right to procure – or refuse – an abortion, surrogacy contracts routinely include provisions that not only prohibit a surrogate from having an abortion unless there is a medical need, but also give the intended parents sole discretion to determine whether the surrogate should abort where there is evidence of a physical abnormality or other issue.  Such provisions have not been tested in court, but would almost certainly be unenforceable based on the surrogate’s Constitutionally-protected right to reproductive autonomy.


In India, where there is an estimated $400 million surrogate tourism industry, women agree to be surrogates in exchange for $5,000-7,000, which is far more than they could make otherwise.  In many clinics, surrogates live in dormitories for the duration of the pregnancy and their food and medical care is provided by the clinic.  There are also reports that some clinics have policies against pregnancies of 3 or more fetuses – meaning that selective reduction may occur as a matter of course to reduce the number of fetuses to 2 or 1.  If this is in fact happening, are the surrogates (or even the intended parents) aware of what is happening?  Are they given a voice in the medical care and treatments they receive?  Or are the decisions made by the intended parents or the clinic, and simply imposed on the surrogate?


Surrogacy, as with other assisted reproductive techniques, has been promoted in the name of reproductive autonomy – the right and ability to have more options and exert more control over reproduction.  But in cases such as these, where surrogates are pressured legally, financially and socially to have an abortion, whose reproductive autonomy are we honoring?  While it may be the child of the intended parents, it is the uterus of the surrogate.  The intended parents have an interest in the healthy development and birth of their child, which can be affected by congenital abnormalities, surrogate behavior, or the presence of multiples.  The surrogate has an interest in her own bodily integrity, her own health, and the treatments or procedures performed on her, even in connection with the gestation of another’s child.  Where these interests conflict, whose rights are stronger: the intended parents of the child, or the woman carrying it? 


It seems unconscionable that a woman could be forced to undergo an abortion based on enforcement of a contract.  It is equally disturbing to think that an intended parent would be prevented from objecting to an abortion of his or her child because the surrogate was making the decision to abort.  While both of these decisions in the context of a commercial surrogacy arrangement may be considered a breach of contract, and therefore may have monetary damages, what is left in the aftermath?  A parent whose unborn child was aborted without the parent’s permission?  A surrogate who has been abandoned with a newborn she never intended to keep?  These consequences are far weightier than could be compensated for by money.

 

The problem with blending the rights of reproductive autonomy is trying to separate them again when there is a conflict.  A surrogate will always have the right to determine what happens to her body, which includes the right to have or refuse an abortion, even if the child belongs to someone else.  Is it possible, then, to simultaneously protect the reproductive rights of both the surrogate and the intended parents?  Or will there always be an inherent imbalance of reproductive rights and the potential for coercion in the enforcement of commercial surrogacy agreements?


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.

October 5, 2015

Elective or Life-Saving? Catholic Hospitals and the Ban on Tubal Ligation

<p style="font-size: 11.2px; line-height: 19.04px;"><span style="font-size: 11.2px; line-height: 19.04px;">A Catholic hospital </span><a style="font-size: 11.2px; line-height: 19.04px;" href="https://www.rt.com/usa/315359-catholic-hospital-denies-sterilization-request/">came under fire recently</a><span style="font-size: 11.2px; line-height: 19.04px;"> for stating that it would not permit doctors to perform a tubal ligation during a c-section scheduled for October.  According to news reports (including an</span><a style="font-size: 11.2px; line-height: 19.04px;" href="http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/09/23/a-catholic-hospital-says-it-s-evil-for-me-to-get-my-tubes-tied.html">article written by the patient herself</a><span style="font-size: 11.2px; line-height: 19.04px;">), the pregnant patient has a brain tumor, and her doctor have advised her that another pregnancy could be life-threatening.  Her doctor has recommended that she have a tubal ligation at the time of her c-section.  While my knowledge about this hospital, this case, and the participants is limited to what has been reported in the media, it raises an interesting question: in our pluralistic society, where conscientious objection is respected while maintaining a patient’s right to a certain standard of care, is it ethical to allow a religiously-affiliated health care institution to refuse to provide certain treatments it finds morally objectionable?</span></p> <p style="font-size: 11.2px; line-height: 19.04px;"><span style="font-size: 11.2px; line-height: 19.04px;">As background, the Catholic Church has historically been outspoken on bioethical issues and has a strong and robust bioethical teaching.  Catholic hospitals are governed by the </span><a style="font-size: 11.2px; line-height: 19.04px;" href="http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/health-care/upload/Ethical-Religious-Directives-Catholic-Health-Care-Services-fifth-edition-2009.pdf">Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services</a><span style="font-size: 11.2px; line-height: 19.04px;"> (ERDs), a document promulgated by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) that clearly articulates the bioethical policies that must be followed in a health care institution based on the Church’s moral teachings.  It explains the Church’s teaching against direct sterilization as a method of birth control based on the </span><a style="font-size: 11.2px; line-height: 19.04px;" href="http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/double-effect/">principle of double effect</a><span style="font-size: 11.2px; line-height: 19.04px;">.  “Direct sterilization of either men or women, whether permanent or temporary, is not permitted in a Catholic health care institution.  Procedures that induce sterility are permitted when their direct effect is the cure or alleviation of a present and serious pathology and a simpler treatment is not available.” (Directive 53).  In other words, if the sterilization procedure directly treats a pathology, it is licit; if it is used as a form of birth control to prevent a pregnancy, even if that pregnancy would be life-threatening, it is not licit.</span></p> <p><span style="color: #34405b; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: 19.04px;"><strong>The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a</strong> </span><strong style="color: #34405b; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: 19.04px;">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 <a style="color: #000099; text-decoration: underline;" href="/Academic/bioethics/index.cfm">website</a>.</strong></p>
October 1, 2015

Is it Ethical for Parents to Create a Savior Sibling?

<p style="font-size: 11.2px; line-height: 19.04px;">Savior siblings are children who are born to provide HLA compatible body parts, typically umbilical cord blood to be used for bone marrow transplantation, in order to save the life of their older sibling. They are created using IVF so that the embryos can be screened in order to find and implant one that is a match to the existing child. The <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adam_Nash_(savior_sibling)">first savior sibling</a>, Adam Nash, was born in the US was born in 2000. Lisa and Jack Nash decided to create a savior sibling after their doctor suggested it might be the best option for a cure for their daughter Molly, who was born with a severe type of Fanconi anemia. Immediately after Adam was born, Molly received a bone marrow transplant using the umbilical cord blood from her brother. The notion of savior siblings gained more attention with Jodi Picoult’s book <em><a href="http://www.jodipicoult.com/my-sisters-keeper.html">My Sister’s Keeper</a></em> and the <a href="http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1078588/?ref_=nv_sr_1">movie based on the book</a>. In contrast to Adam Nash, the savior sibling in the book and movie is expected to continue giving bodily to her sister throughout her childhood, including organ transplantation, rather than one time umbilical cord donation.</p> <p style="font-size: 11.2px; line-height: 19.04px;">Is it ethical for parents to create a savior sibling? Some argue that the parents’ intention plays a role in considering whether it is ethical to create a savior sibling. If the parents were not planning on having any more children and they are the having the savior sibling only for the sake of the older child, then there is the concern of using the savior sibling as a means to an end. If the parents were planning on having more children, then some claim that the savior sibling is wanted for her/his own sake and is not being created for just one purpose (i.e. to save the older child).</p> <p><span style="color: #34405b; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: 19.04px;"><strong>The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a</strong> </span><strong style="color: #34405b; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: 19.04px;">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 <a style="color: #000099; text-decoration: underline;" href="/Academic/bioethics/index.cfm">website</a>.</strong></p>
September 14, 2015

Is Sex Selection Ethical?

<p>In some countries where there is a strong preference for sons due to cultural and religious reasons, women sometimes choose to have an abortion after learning the sex of the fetus they carry is female, which is often referred to as sex selection abortion. For example, <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3166246/">sex selection abortion</a> is common in India and has increased significantly in the couple of last decades, especially for pregnancies following a firstborn daughter. The prevalence of sex selection abortion is also common in China, often referred to as the “<a href="http://jhr.uwpress.org/content/45/1/87.short">missing girls of China</a>” phenomenon, and is due to a similar cultural preference for sons as well as the One Child Policy.</p> <p>Given the strong pressure women are under to have sons, is ethical for them to have sex selection abortions? Some point out that it may not be women’s authentic choice that is leading them to abort female fetuses but rather familial pressure from their husband and other family members as well as broader social pressure. In these situations, paternalistic approaches may be more justifiable in order to protect women from oppressive social forces that may coerce them into having sex selection abortion. From a justice perspective, outlawing sex selection abortion sends the message that sex discrimination is wrong, seeks to protect female fetuses, and attempts to ensure a balanced birth ratio between females and males.</p> <p><span style="color: #34405b; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: 19.04px;"><strong>The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a</strong> </span><strong style="color: #34405b; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: 19.04px;">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 <a style="color: #000099; text-decoration: underline;" href="/Academic/bioethics/index.cfm">website</a>.</strong></p>
July 27, 2015

Investigating Two Claims Against Planned Parenthood: Center of Medical Progress’s Secret Videos

by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.

Before you being reading, I have a disclaimer: Growing up, my mother worked for Planned Parenthood. As a nurse, she practiced in their clinics offering well women services, counseling, and contraception.…

July 23, 2015

Planned Parenthood and fetal tissue donation

<p style="font-size: 11.1999998092651px; line-height: 19.0400009155273px;">Planned Parenthood recently made national news because an anti-abortion group released an <a href="http://wnyt.com/article/stories/S3854083.shtml?cat=10114">undercover video</a> showing two people posing as fetal tissue recruiters interviewing Dr. Deborah Nucatola, the senior director of medical services of Planned Parenthood. The interview was cropped down into an eight minute clip in which Dr. Nucatola seems to be suggesting that Planned Parenthood sells fetal tissue for profit. Planned Parenthood has responded to the video saying that it is heavily edited and that they do not sell fetal tissue. They do, however, donate fetal tissue with women’s explicit consent and they sometimes receive a small amount of money – in the video Dr. Nucatola says it is typically between $30-100 – that covers transportation of the fetal tissue.</p> <p style="font-size: 11.1999998092651px; line-height: 19.0400009155273px;"><span style="font-size: 11.1999998092651px; line-height: 19.0400009155273px;">This story made national news because the idea of selling fetal tissue for profit without women’s consent is horrifying. Yet, once we uncover the facts here, this story is much less troubling than it originally seems. One concern the undercover video raises is of selling fetal tissue. It is illegal in the US to sell human and fetal organs and tissue. However, it is not only legal, but also laudable to altruistically donate organs and tissue. Because there is such a strong need for organs and tissue for patients waiting for transportation and for scientific research, there are various campaigns to get people to sign up to be cadaveric organ donors, to donate blood, and to be live kidney donors.  In the US, organ donation is opt-in only, meaning it is completely voluntary and people are under no ethical obligation to donate. Likewise, women who have abortions are under no ethical obligation to donate fetal tissue and typically the fetal tissue is discarded. Women who choose to donate fetal tissue for scientific research are acting altruistically because there are choosing to further scientific research, which could help others in the future.</span></p> <p style="font-size: 11.1999998092651px; line-height: 19.0400009155273px;"><span style="line-height: 19.0400009155273px; color: #34405b; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;"><strong>The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a</strong> </span><strong style="line-height: 19.0400009155273px; color: #34405b; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;">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 <a style="text-decoration: underline; color: #000099;" href="http://www.amc.edu/Academic/bioethics/index.cfm">website</a>.</strong></p>
July 16, 2015

Planned Parenthood, Tissue Donation, and American Politics: A Call to Separate the Debate in the Media

by Macey L. Henderson, JD and Brianna L. Doby

The controversy over Planned Parenthood seems to be as old as time in American politics, but now the public perception of donated tissue for medical research might be at stake.…

June 29, 2015

iPhone App Will Track Sexual Activity and Reproduction

<div style="font-size: 11.1999998092651px; line-height: 19.0400009155273px;">Apple recently announced that they will update their health app, HealthKit, to include reproductive health. Many were critical of the original app because although it can track a wide range of health indicators, such as BMI, sleep, sodium intake, number of falls, etc., it neglected reproductive health. Specifically, <a href="http://fusion.net/story/100781/apple-ios-update-new-version-of-healthkit-still-doesnt-track-periods/">it is problematic</a> that the app includes some obscure health indicators, like selenium intake, but not menstrual cycle, which affects half of the population. While there are other apps that are specifically geared toward women's reproductive health, it is troubling that an iPhone app that comes standard with the phone would exclude something so central to women's health as menstruation. Some believe that the omission of reproductive health from HealthKit is due to the fact that the tech world, including Apple, is dominated by men.  </div> <div style="font-size: 11.1999998092651px; line-height: 19.0400009155273px;"><br /></div> <div style="font-size: 11.1999998092651px; line-height: 19.0400009155273px;">The new the updated app is a huge improvement because it includes a variety of reproductive health indicators like menstruation, basal body temperature, and spotting. The broad range of reproductive health indicators helps women keep track of their reproductive health in general and specifically for women looking to prevent pregnancy and for women looking to achieve pregnancy. This is an important addition because too often reproductive health is overlooked or not considered part of "real" healthcare. The addition of the reproductive health category in HealthKit technology not only acknowledges the reproductive health issues specific to many women, but also normalizes them.</div> <p><strong style="color: #34405b; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: 19.0400009155273px;">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 <a style="color: #000099; text-decoration: underline;" href="http://www.amc.edu/Academic/bioethics/index.cfm">website</a>.</strong></p>
June 22, 2015

Reflections on Father’s Day from a “Single” Mother

by Nanette Elster, JD, MPH

Today on Father’s Day, as I miss my own father who has been gone for 17 years now, I am reflecting on my decision to intentionally become a single mother.…

May 19, 2015

Should someone who does not want biological children be diagnosed as infertile?

<p style="font-size: 11.1999998092651px; line-height: 19.0400009155273px;"><span style="font-size: 11.1999998092651px; line-height: 19.0400009155273px;">In my </span><a style="font-size: 11.1999998092651px; line-height: 19.0400009155273px;" href="/BioethicsBlog/post.cfm/how-should-we-define-infertility-and-who-counts-as-infertile">last blog</a><span style="font-size: 11.1999998092651px; line-height: 19.0400009155273px;">, I discussed some of the problems with the definition of infertility, including that it is based mainly on women's bodies, which implies that men are less likely or not likely to be infertile, and it is based on heterosexual activity, which implies that single individuals and/or individuals in the LGBTQ community cannot experience infertility. I also distinguished between physiological infertility (i.e. infertility due to a biological condition such as low sperm count or blocked tubes) and social infertility (i.e. situational infertility, such as whether one has a partner and if so, if that partner is fertile and together one and one’s partner have the “right” parts to reproduce biologically). In this blog, I want to reflect more on that it means to be infertile and how the role social desire (i.e. the social desire to have biological children) plays in diagnosing this condition.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="font-size: 11.1999998092651px; line-height: 19.0400009155273px;"><span style="font-size: 11.1999998092651px; line-height: 19.0400009155273px;">Imagine two women with the same exact circumstances: they are both 30 years old, in long term heterosexual relationships, and have been having unprotected sex regularly for the last 3 years. The only difference is that one woman, Jessica, wants to have biological children, while the other woman, Katie does not. Should they both be classified as infertile? How does their desire to have or not have biological children shape their medical diagnosis? Should their partners be labeled as infertile too? Does it matter whether Jessica and Katie are physiologically or socially infertile in classifying them as infertile? Does their partners’ interest in having biological children or lack thereof factor into determining if Jessica and Katie are infertile?</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="font-size: 11.1999998092651px; line-height: 19.0400009155273px;"><strong style="line-height: 19.0400009155273px; color: #34405b; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;">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 <a style="text-decoration: underline; color: #000099;" href="/Academic/bioethics/index.cfm">website</a>.</strong><span style="line-height: 19.0400009155273px; color: #34405b; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;"> </span><span style="font-size: 11.1999998092651px; line-height: 19.0400009155273px; color: #34405b; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;"> </span></p>