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
Analysis.” 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.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.