Tag: freezing

Bioethics News

Take One Egg. Cool to -196 C. Revolutionize Fertility.

November 28, 2016

(The Toronto Star) – Now eggs can be frozen like sperm — and anything a male sex cell can do from that point on, a female one can, too. “Vitrification,” as the new technique is called, has made many avenues of assisted reproduction safer, cheaper, more efficient and easier to access. But unsurprisingly for a technology that creates human beings, egg freezing, by unravelling one biological knot, has created a tangle of new questions about gender, work, health and religion.

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

A Hot Take on a Cold Body

It’s good to see Nils’ post about the recent UK cryonics ruling getting shared around quite a bit – so it should.  I thought I’d throw in my own voice, too.

About 18 months ago, Imogen Jones and I wrote a paper musing on some of the ethical and legal dimensions of Christopher Priest’s The Prestige.  One dimension of this was a look at the legal status of the bodies produced as a result of the “magic” trick – in particular, the haziness of whether they were alive or dead; the law doesn’t have any space for a third state.  The paper was something of a jeu d’esprit, written to serve a particular function in a Festschrift for Margot Brazier.  If I say so myself, I think it’s a pretty good paper – but it’s also meant to be fun, and is clearly rather less serious than most ethico-legal scholarship (or anything else in the book, for that matter).

Not quite “Cold Lazarus”, but close enough…

So it’s a bit of a surprise to see relevantly similar themes popping up in the news.  If we’re freezing people in the hope of curing terminal illness in the future, what’s the status of the bodies in the meantime (especially if the death certificate has been signed)?  There’s a load of questions that we might want to ask before we get too carried away with embracing cryonics.

Right from the start, there’s a question about plausibility.  For the sake of what follows, I’m going to treat “freezing” as including the process of defrosting people successfully as well, unless the context makes it clear that I mean something else.

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

14-year-old to be cryogenically frozen in UK

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A 14-year-old British girl who was dying of cancer won a court battle last month to be cryogenically frozen in the hope of being revived in 200 years’ time. Her divorced parents could not agree about whether to carry out her wishes, so she sought permission from the UK High Court. In a letter to the judge, the girl, known only as JS, wrote,

“I have been asked to explain why I want this unusual thing done. I’m only 14 years old and I don’t want to die, but I know I am going to. I think being cryo-preserved gives me a chance to be cured and woken up, even in hundreds of years’ time. I don’t want to be buried underground. I want to live and live longer and I think that in the future they might find a cure for my cancer and wake me up. I want to have this chance. This is my wish.”

According to the Telegraph, JS told a relative: “I’m dying, but I’m going to come back again in 200 years. After her death on October 17 her body was frozen and taken to a facility in the United States.

Only 10 Britons have ever been frozen. Even the companies which store frozen bodies and heads admit that there is currently impossible to revive a frozen cadaver. So at best cryopreservation is a leap of faith; at worst it is quackery. It is not cheap, either. Basic cryopreservation packages costs about £37,000, or, in the words of the Judge, Justice Peter Jackson, “about ten times as much as an average funeral”.

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

Justice Cryogenically Delayed is Justice Denied?

Guest Post by Nils Hoppe

Re JS (Disposal of Body) [2016] EWHC 2859 (Fam)

This unusual and sad case concerns a court application by a 14 year old girl, JS.  In 2015 she was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer which proved terminal and, at the time of her application, she was receiving palliative care as an in-patient at a hospital.  The other parties involved in the application were JS’s parents, who were acrimoniously divorced.  JS had no direct contact with her father after 2008.

Knowing that she would soon die, JS carried out online research into commercial cryogenic preservation techniques, defined in the judgment as “the freezing of a dead body in the hope that resuscitation and cure may be possible in the distant future”.  Such techniques are not uncontroversial, being regarded with scepticism by the majority of the medical and scientific community.  They are also not cheap: the judgment describes the costs associated with the basic cryopreservation package as being in the region of £37,000, or, as Mr Justice Peter Jackson put it, “about ten times as much as an average funeral”.

Of most significance to the court application was the fact that the proposed procedure required the cooperation of the hospital in which JS was a patient.  This concern was described in the following terms by the judge:

The body must be prepared within a very short time of death, ideally within minutes and at most within a few hours.  Arrangements then have to be made for it to be transported by a registered funeral director to the premises in the United States where it is to be stored. 

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

Egg Freezing in China: Liberty or Despair?

Jing-Bao Nie comments on how, in different ways, inadequate social supports for reproduction and parenting, and the prohibition on social egg freezing by single women in China limit women’s reproductive liberty.

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A recent article in The New York Times reports that some Chinese women, wishing to postpone motherhood, are traveling to North America to freeze their eggs. While the technology for this procedure is available in China, Chinese regulations currently prohibit unmarried women from accessing this and other assisted reproductive technologies, such as IVF.

In a Western context, some of the ethical issues surrounding ‘social’ egg freezing have been discussed in recent Impact Ethics posts. For example, Angel Petropanagos points out problems with the social biases in favour of pregnancy and motherhood. Lucy Morgan has questions whether egg freezing is a genuinely autonomous decision or just “an illusory choice.” Both argue that ethical discussions should move beyond individual reproductive autonomy.

As I see it, the fact that single Chinese women who want egg freezing must travel overseas to do so calls attention to a state violation of reproductive liberty as well as inadequate social supports for childbearing and child-raising in China.

Air China Boeing 777-200 Photo Credit: Duan Zhu (2011)

While obvious political and socio-cultural differences exist between China and western countries like Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, some fundamental ethical issues concerning human reproduction are similar. Most importantly, in both contexts there are underlying issues about women’s reproductive liberty and the lack of sufficient social supports related to reproduction and parenting.

Too often current global debates on women’s reproductive rights are regarded as merely Western ideas.

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

Just What We Need: Slicker Infertility Marketing

The most unsettling line in the recent Forbes article on the ambitious infertility startup Prelude comes about halfway through. “The IVF industry in the United States,” writes Miguel Helft, “has everything private equity likes—scale (about $2 billion annually) and growth (more than 10% a year), along with being fragmented and having outdated marketing.” 

In an era with precious few opportunities for double digit returns, why not turn the reproductive health sector into the next big thing by furthering its consolidation and selling services using lifestyle content?  “Hey,” Prelude’s hipster-chic splash page calls out, “how’s your fertility doing?” 

If that piques your interest, scrolling down takes you on a kind of virtual stroll through the streets of Williamsburg, Wicker Park, or the Mission District, where you encounter edgily coifed, tatted, and bespectacled folk who presumably are spending as much time thinking about their reproductive fitness as they do their next Americano or Kimchi taco.  But you’ll find scant information about financial, psychological, or medical risks of egg retrieval (unless you count the presumed donor pictured alongside the quotation “I was worried about the discomfort, but seriously, it was no worse than a bikini wax—and for a much higher purpose”) or about failure rates after eggs are thawed and implanted.  Everything is upbeat and empowering, geared toward the “millennial mindset of health, wellness, and control.”

Prelude is targeting 20 to 30 year olds and the main product it’s selling them is their own eggs and sperm on ice.  The site proclaims, “If you are in your 20s or early 30s, there is no better time than now to bank your eggs and sperm.

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

Is IVF changing the course of human evolution?

Evolution is caused by the differential reproduction of individuals with certain features. So surely IVF, which enables people to reproduce who are unable to do so naturally, must be having an effect upon human evolution.

This tricky but important question was tackled by Norwegian scientists in a recent article in the journal Human Reproduction. “Assisted reproduction is redefining human society and biology and, in the face of profound ethical issues, it is important to understand the technical and conceptual principles that underlie this new paradigm,” they write.

They point out that IVF systematically changes selection pressures, involving “a combination of artificial environments and selection criteria that are distinctively different from those of natural reproduction”.

The human eggs which survive the selection process are different from normal eggs. IVF favours sperm that swim fast for a short distance while nature “favours long-distance swimmers that are able to navigate the female reproductive tract”. IVF embryos have to survive freezing and the culture media in a Petri dish. There may be differences in how IVF embryos survive implantation and miscarriage. And even the couples come from a distinct subgroup: “Overall, the limited availability of IVF favours healthy sub-fertile couples in stable relationships who live in high-income societies over other sub-fertile couples”.

The authors stress that much of what they say is speculative, but they point out that “The most extreme evolutionary scenario is a subpopulation in which reproduction is entirely dependent on IVF … Overall, it seems clear that IVF facilitates the propagation of genetically heritable traits of sub-fertile couples, and we suspect that ongoing studies of IVF offspring will show an increased risk of subfertility for this group.”

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

Egg Freezing: An Illusory Choice

Lucy Morgan critiques the corporate and political framings of egg freezing as a “solution” to delayed motherhood.

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Earlier this year Timeless, a fictional beauty brand, opened a pop-up shop in London, United Kingdom. Timeless aims to raise public awareness about the growing demand for social egg freezing, a technology that was only recently labelled non-experimental by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. It provides clear information about the ethical, financial, and social implications of this technology, while encouraging public debate.

Theoretically, egg freezing gives women more time to exert agency and control over their fertility. It is presented as a liberating option, allowing women to “have it all,” to take advantage of the new opportunities available to them, and to become psychologically, economically, and relationally secure before having children.  Advocates of the technology argue that it would be wrong to deny women their right to this reproductive solution.

Framing egg freezing as a solution benefits corporations and governments. It is much easier for business people and politicians to encourage women to have children later than it is to enact corporate or structural changes, such as flexible working hours and better parental leave packages. Corporations that promote or fund egg freezing get positive press and public recognition for “improving gender equality.” Yet, typically, they avoid tackling the larger underlying issues that can lead to delayed motherhood.

Having more options does not guarantee reproductive autonomy; choices made within a constrained system are not truly free. Reproductive decisions are made within an environment, where the structurally imposed constraints of working hours, economic hardship, and dating, limit autonomy.

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

Frozen Eggs and Heated Debates

Angel Petropanagos reflects on public debates about social egg freezing.

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Social egg freezing is becoming more widespread as a result of increased media coverage, clever marketing strategies, employer benefits from companies including Apple and Facebook, and government funding in Japan.

I’ve been thinking and writing about the ethical issues surrounding social egg freezing and delayed motherhood (and fatherhood) for several years. And the public debates on these topics haven’t really changed.

Proponents of social egg freezing argue that this technology can promote women’s reproductive autonomy by affording them the option of delaying genetic reproduction and parenthood in order to pursue higher education or advance their career— an option that is generally available to men on the assumption that childcare is women’s work (so there will be a woman somewhere to care for his children while he pursues his education or advances his career).

Critics of social egg freezing raise concerns about the health risks to individual women and any resulting offspring. They also worry about the fact that most women who freeze their eggs likely will never use them for reproduction. This points to a service that is characterized by unnecessary physical risks to women and needless expenditures by them, and results in a surplus of stored biological material. Further, critics worry about “false hope” that can result from the use of a technology that is not guaranteed. Some feminists worry that social egg freezing detracts attention from broader social changes, such as improved parental leave, subsidized or universal daycare, and flexible work schedules that can make it easier for women (and men) to choose to have children at a younger age.

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.