Tag: freezing

Bioethics Blogs

Will CRISPR fears fade with familiarity?

With all these ‘test tube’ babies grown up, how have our reactions to the technology evolved? AP Photo/Alastair Grant

The first “test-tube baby” made headlines around the world in 1978, setting off intense debate on the ethics of researching human embryos and reproductive technologies. Every breakthrough since then has raised the same questions about “designer babies” and “playing God” – but public response has grown more subdued rather than more engaged as assisted reproductive technologies have become increasingly sophisticated and powerful.

As the science has advanced, doctors are able to perform more complex procedures with better-than-ever success rates. This progress has made in vitro fertilization and associated assisted reproductive technologies relatively commonplace. Over one million babies have been born in the U.S. using IVF since 1985.

And Americans’ acceptance of these technologies has evolved alongside their increased usage, as we’ve gotten used to the idea of physicians manipulating embryos.

But the ethical challenges posed by these procedures remain – and in fact are increasing along with our capabilities. While still a long way from clinical use, the recent news that scientists in Oregon had successfully edited genes in a human embryo brings us one step closer to changing the DNA that we pass along to our descendants. As the state of the science continues to advance, ethical issues need to be addressed before the next big breakthrough.

Birth of the test-tube baby era

Louise Brown was born in the U.K. on July 25, 1978. Known as the first “test-tube baby,” she was a product of IVF, a process where an egg is fertilized by sperm outside of the body before being implanted into the womb.

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.

Bioethics Blogs

Web Round Up: Time to Chill? Egg Freezing and Beyond by Moira Kyweluk

A focus on age-related fertility decline, and exploration of ways to expand the timeline and options for biological parenthood have been consistent cultural and web-wide fixations. The $3 billion United States fertility industry was in the headlines once again this month including coverage of the launch of Future Family, a service offering  a “fertility age test” to women and negotiated-rate infertility medical care, alongside newly published research on ovarian tissue preservation, an alternative to oocyte cryopreservation or “egg freezing”, both procedures aimed at potentially extending a woman’s fertility window.

In the wake of findings presented in July 2017 at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology conference in Geneva, Switzerland by Marcia Inhorn, Professor of Anthropology and International Affairs at Yale University, popular media headlines blared:  “Why are women freezing their eggs? Because of the lack of eligible men”  and “Women who freeze their eggs aren’t doing it for career reasons.” The study analyzed interviews from 150 women in their late 30s and early 40s who opted for egg freezing in Israel and the United States. Results “show that women were not intentionally postponing childbearing for educational or career reasons, as is often assumed in media coverage of this phenomenon, but rather preserving their remaining fertility because they did not have partners to create a family with. The researchers conclude that women see egg freezing as ‘a technological concession to the man deficit’, using it to ‘buy time’ while continuing their search for a suitable partner to father their children.”

The American Society of Reproductive Medicine, the regulatory board that governs the safe and ethical use of fertility technologies, reclassified egg-freezing technology from “experimental” to standard-of-care in 2012.

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.

Bioethics News

The biological status of the early human embryo. When does human life begins?

“Those who argue that that embryo can be destroyed with impunity will have to prove that this newly created life is not human. And no-one, to the best of our knowledge, has yet been able to do so.”

Introduction

In order to determine the nature of the human embryo, we need to know its biological, anthropological, philosophical, and even its legal reality. In our opinion, however, the anthropological, philosophical and legal reality of the embryo — the basis of its human rights — must be built upon its biological reality (see also HERE).

Consequently, one of the most widely debated topics in the field of bioethics is to determine when human life begins, and particularly to define the biological status of the human embryo, particularly the early embryo, i.e. from impregnation of the egg by the sperm until its implantation in the maternal endometrium.

Irrespective of this, though, this need to define when human life begins is also due to the fact that during the early stages of human life — approximately during its first 14 days — this young embryo is subject to extensive and diverse threats that, in many cases, lead to its destruction (see HERE).

These threats affect embryos created naturally, mainly through the use of drugs or technical procedures used in the control of human fertility that act via an anti-implantation mechanism, especially intrauterine devices (as DIU); this is also the case of drugs used in emergency contraception, such as levonorgestrel or ulipristal-based drugs (see HERE), because both act via an anti-implantation mechanism in 50% of cases.

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.

Bioethics News

The biological status of the early human embryo. When does human life begins?

“Those who argue that that embryo can be destroyed with impunity will have to prove that this newly created life is not human. And no-one, to the best of our knowledge, has yet been able to do so.”

Introduction

In order to determine the nature of the human embryo, we need to know its biological, anthropological, philosophical, and even its legal reality. In our opinion, however, the anthropological, philosophical and legal reality of the embryo — the basis of its human rights — must be built upon its biological reality (see also HERE).

Consequently, one of the most widely debated topics in the field of bioethics is to determine when human life begins, and particularly to define the biological status of the human embryo, particularly the early embryo, i.e. from impregnation of the egg by the sperm until its implantation in the maternal endometrium.

Irrespective of this, though, this need to define when human life begins (see our article  is also due to the fact that during the early stages of human life — approximately during its first 14 days — this young embryo is subject to extensive and diverse threats that, in many cases, lead to its destruction (see HERE).

These threats affect embryos created naturally, mainly through the use of drugs or technical procedures used in the control of human fertility that act via an anti-implantation mechanism, especially intrauterine devices (as DIU); this is also the case of drugs used in emergency contraception, such as levonorgestrel or ulipristal-based drugs (see HERE), because both act via an anti-implantation mechanism in most of the time.

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.

Bioethics Blogs

Can Science Survive in a Communications Blackout: Restricting Speech Violates Scientific Ethics

by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.

That good ethics begins with good facts is an oft-heard mantra and was my first lesson when I began conducting clinical ethics consults 20 years ago. In the clinic, good facts come from many sources such as talking to health care providers, patients and families and from looking at test results. Empirical facts come from good science whether that is social science, bench science, health science, or theoretical science to name a few. The sharing of scientific facts, studies, and results is at the heart of the scientific enterprise. Sharing your work allows for peer-review, for confirmation of the work, for challenges to other’s work, and for furthering the progress of other scientists. What if Watson and Crick had been forbidden from publishing on the double helix? Would we have the genetics revolution of today? What if the government scientists who created DARPA net had never been allowed to share their work? Would the internet exist?

According to several news reports, the new administration issued a gag order to research scientists in several executive branch agencies. The Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Health & Human Services, US Department of Agriculture’s Research Service, as well as the departments of the Interior and Transportation have been ordered to cease external communications and to funnel such desires to communicate through “leadership.”

This gag rule is more than simply limiting social media posts. It apparently means no communication with the media, Congress, blogs and press releases. This may extend to webinars, presenting at scientific conferences, and even scholarly publication since some agencies have been asked to submit lists of such external speaking engagements.

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.

Bioethics Blogs

Single Women’s Reproductive Rights in China

Qian Liu explains that single women in China who are contemplating pregnancy often care more about the attitudes of their parents towards single mothers, than about the laws on assisted reproduction.

__________________________________________

“I don’t care if the law does or doesn’t grant single women reproductive rights. I can get pregnant on my own and give birth if I really want to. But I don’t think I want to be a single mother by choice even if it is legal. What I care about most are the feelings of my parents and my relationship with them.” This is a version of the most common answer I got from 72 Chinese women when I asked them about the law in China which denies unmarried women the right to reproduce using reproductive technologies.

China, a country with a fertility rate of 1.05 children per woman, prohibits offering assisted reproductive technologies to single women. Also, women who choose to be single mothers by choice in China are penalized by the state. They have to pay a social upbringing fee for violating the country’s family planning policy. While lawyers and international media blame these laws for creating barriers to childbearing by single women in China, I argue that these laws are by no means the most significant factors keeping China’s single women from becoming single parents.

Last month, three Chinese NGOs involved in LGBT and gender issues released a report titled “Single Women’s Reproductive Rights – A Research Report on Policy and Lived Experience.” The report suggests that there is a close linkage between unmarried mothers’ miserable experiences and the law’s restrictions on childbearing out of wedlock.

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.

Bioethics News

Fertility restored to girl whose ovarian tissue was frozen

A woman has given birth to a healthy child after her fertility was restored with ovarian tissue frozen when she was a child. Moaza Al Matrooshi, a 24-year-old woman from Dubai, had chemotheraphy when she was nine years old to combat her beta thalassaemia, an inherited blood disorder which can be lethal. As a precaution, her right ovary was removed and frozen before she was treated.

Now married and eager to have a child of her own, Ms Al Matrooshi used the frozen tissue. In a clinic in Denmark slices of the ovary were restored and she began to ovulate. However, to ensure a pregnancy she and her husband underwent IVF. Three embryos were created and two were implanted earlier in the year.

“I always believed that I would be a mum and that I would have a baby,” she told the media. “I didn’t stop hoping and now I have this baby – it is a perfect feeling.”

Prof Helen Picton, of the University of Leeds, described the new mother’s experience as an incredibly encouraging breakthrough. “Worldwide more than 60 babies have been born from women who had their fertility restored, but Moaza is the first case from pre-pubertal freezing and the first from a patient who had treatment for beta thalassaemia,” she told The Telegraph.

This article is published by Michael Cook and BioEdge under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation.

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.

Bioethics Blogs

Biopolitical News of 2016

The biggest surprise of the year was probably the birth, in Mexico, of a baby who was conceived following controversial mitochondrial manipulation (“3-parent IVF”). The location was chosen by a New York-based fertility doctor who noted that in Mexico “there are no rules.” Since 3-person IVF is technically a form of inheritable genetic modification, one big question is whether its increasing use and normalization will open the door to wider acceptance of gene editing for human reproduction.

The gene editing shockwaves of 2015 – when Crispr was first applied in human embryos, and controversy about the prospect of using it for human reproduction became explicit – developed into a somewhat more predictable flood of activity and comment in 2016. The big, and unfortunate, news here is perhaps the non-news: the absence of any significant efforts to encourage public participation in deliberations about whether powerful new genetic manipulation tools should be used in efforts to control the traits of future children and generations.

The most consequential news of the year for biopolitics as for so much else may well turn out to be the US presidential election result, but the consequences themselves remain somewhat unclear. Trump’s comments about having “the right genes” are ominous warning signs, which are perhaps getting worse, as partly described below.

Cross-border commercial surrogacy was in the news this year because of scandals, disputes, and changes in the laws of several nations where it had taken hold. Commercial pressures were particularly apparent in the slick marketing being used to promote egg freezing among young women with no fertility problems.

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.

Bioethics News

The complications and practicalities of cryopreservation

Someday we might get the technique right    

The publicity surrounding the cryopreservation of the body of a 14-year-old British JS after her death from cancer has prompted more commentary.

Heather Conway, of Queen’s University Belfast, ruminated on the legal complications arising from reanimation after decades or even centuries on ice.

From a legal perspective, the problems are obvious – starting with the fact that the person has already been declared legally dead. How would, how could, the law reinstate them? Could that person reclaim assets that they owned in life, but had passed to family members on death? Could inheritance laws be undone? And if the person’s spouse is still alive but has now remarried, would that marriage still be valid when the former partner returns from the dead? Even before this happens, what is the status of the corpse during its time in the deep freeze: does it have any legal rights? How long should a frozen corpse be stored, and would the individual’s family have the right to thaw or destroy the corpse without reanimating it?

And Alexandra Stolzing, a lecturer in regenerative medicine, at Loughborough University, in the UK, points out that it is still impossible to cryopreserve brains successfully. Besides she points out,

But there’s another huge hurdle for cryonics: to not only repair the damage incurred due to the freezing process but also to reverse the damage that led to death – and in such a manner that the individual resumes conscious existence.

From a purely technical point of view, this added complication might be worth avoiding.

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.

Bioethics Blogs

Is someone reanimated from cryogenic freezing legally dead or alive? And other problems

The idea that your dying or recently deceased body could be frozen in the hope that some future technology could revive you is no longer science fiction. It is now something people will pay handsomely for – as the recent court ruling that allowed a 14-year-old British girl with terminal cancer to have her remains cryogenically frozen and stored indefinitely in a US clinic has shown. While the possibility that even future medical technology could revive anyone from death is moot, in the here and now the practice of cryopreservation raises all sorts of novel legal issues.

Freezing a corpse keeps its physical structure intact – and there have been stories of grieving relatives preserving a loved one’s remains in this way. Long-term cold storage of the dead in purpose-built refrigeration facilities is permissible, although DIY preservation in a freezer at home is not such a good idea and inevitably prone to electrical or technical failure, as was the case for a frozen French doctor and his wife who unexpectedly thawed.

Cryonics takes this to a whole new level, seeing freezing as an interim solution. A speculative technology, it uses extremely cold temperatures of –196°C to preserve human remains until a medical cure is found for whatever caused death in the first place. At this point, so the theory goes, the corpse can be thawed and reanimated. Sometimes the whole body is frozen, or sometimes just the person’s head – with the intention of reconstructing the individual from their brain. H

However, the science itself is at least suspect.

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.