Reproductive Medicine on the Ethical Frontier
“ I love kids and I always wanted to have them. They said they’d tried it in sheep and it worked.”
Stacie McBain was recently diagnosed with cancer at the age of 20. Doctors told her that the treatment she would undergo will ultimately leave her infertile. In light of this devastating news was an experimental procedure that had given Stacie the chance to become a mother. Her wish was no longer in the hands of God, but in the technology discovered by a doctor. Such experimental operations have occurred across the globe for over a decade, placing fertility procedures “in the eye of an ethical storm” (Meyer 94). The question remains are doctors playing God, or just giving infertile patients their wish to become parents?
The advances in science and medicine have led to the increase in ethical disputes. For many couples desperate to have children,
fertility procedures are a momentous opportunity, which come with a high price. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, “in 1994, the fertility industry cost the US Health-care system between $60,000 and $110,000 for each successful pregnancy.” Not only are these operations expensive, but also tantalizing and to some immoral. “We often get ahead of ourselves in technologically…And the ethics; we’re still wrestling with those kinds of questions” (Silverman).
In-vitro fertilization, artificial insemination, and fertility drugs are all available prospects for the infertile couple, today. The Ethics Committee of the American Fertility Society states “[ Artificial insemination by donor ] may be the best solution to overcome the infertile couple’s inability to have their own…child.” In-vitro fertilization, otherwise known as test-tube babies, is a process in which doctors remove ovaries and prepare them in a petri dish along with the male’s sperm to ensure pregnancy. This process begins with the female submitting to a two-week regimen of daily drug injections, tedious blood shots, and a number of ultrasound examinations. Although they are well informed of the price tag, risks, and effects of these procedures, “reproductive medicine is now a $1 billion-a-year industry that accounts for some 23,000 live births a year in the U.S. alone (Wulf).
With these experimental procedures comes the risk of error by surgeons. Donna Fasano of New York was one victim in an infertility treatment mix-up that impregnated her with two embryos; one with her egg and husband’s sperm, and one with an African American’s DNA. Their fertility specialist notified the Fasono’s of the mistake one week into the pregnancy, and Donna continued to carry both embryos to full term, giving birth to twin boys, one white and one black, in December of 1999. Deborah and Robert Rogers were also patients at the same clinic, and believe the black child is their son. The boys are surrounded by legal and ethical disputes; the Rogers demanding that they are the biological parents and the Fasanos insisting that the boys should not be separated. Who are the real parents and who deserve custody of this child?
The University of California at Irvine is also in the midst of a legal battle over alleged medical malpractice in its fertility clinic. Doctors are accused of stealing the eggs of women who were undergoing routine surgeries for reproductive problems, and then implanting them into other women, some of who became pregnant. Who are the real parents and who deserve custody of these children?
John and Luanne Buzzanca of Orange County, California were an infertile couple. They hired a married woman, Pamela Snell, to carry a child to term for them; a child made from the sperm and egg of anonymous, unrelated donors. One month before Jaycee Buzzanca was born, John filed for divorce complicating the situation further. John claims the divorce relieved him of parental responsibilities (according to California law, fatherhood is defined by biological parentage or marriage to the child’s birth mother.) Luanne also had no parental right to the child, for she was neither the biological mother nor her birth mother. The surrogate mother had signed a contract relinquishing her maternal rights after birth. The donors remained anonymous, thus leaving Jaycee with no legal parents.
Such legal battles put innocent children in the line of fire when it comes