IVF spawns host of ethical issues

October 4, 2010

embryosIn vitro fertilization (IVF), the pioneering technique that won Robert Edwards the 2010 Nobel Prize for medicine, opened up a wealth of scientific options and a Pandora’s box of ethical dilemmas.

Edwards’s success in fertilizing a human egg outside of the womb led not only to “test tube babies” but also to innovations such as embryonic stem cell research and surrogate motherhood.

(Photo: Frozen human embryos at the Priory Hospital in Birmingham, England, July 31., 1996/Ian Hodgson)

Amid the applause for these medical breakthroughs, ethicists from some Christian churches oppose IVF and techniques related to it because they involve the destruction of human embryos.  The bewildering array of options due to the IVF revolution — from the morality of making “designer babies” to exploitation of poor women as surrogate mothers — has created much concern and many debates among secular ethicists as well.

The Roman Catholic Church’s top official for life issues slammed the award to Edwards as “completely misplaced.”

“Without Edwards there would be no market for human eggs; without Edwards there would not be freezers full of embryos waiting to be transferred to a uterus, or, more likely, used for research or left to die, abandoned and forgotten by all,” said Ignazio Carrasco de Paula, President of the Pontifical Academy for Life, in what the Vatican described as personal statement.

edwardsThe combination of IVF and surrogate motherhood has led to previously unimaginable legal and moral complications. In one baffling case in 1997, an infertile California couple hired a surrogate to bear a child from anonymous sperm and egg donations. But the intended parents divorced before the birth, so the surrogate and her husband filed a claim for custody.

(Photo: British physiologist Robert Edwards in a July 12, 2008 file photo/Copyright Bourn Hall)

When it saw the child potentially had six parents, a state court ruled it had been born with no legal parents at all.

Read the full story here. Here’s the Reuters video report on the announcement:

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