Ethical concerns over 'manipulation of reproduction'

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The Independent Online

Transplanting entire ovaries for women who suffer early menopause carries important ethical concerns that some argue must be resolved before clinical trials start.

Enabling professional women to delay childbirth until much later in life is an aspect that ethicists find highly contentious and morally debatable.

Richard Nicholson, the editor of Bulletin of Medical Ethics, is wary of both the technical plausibility and moral aspects of the treatment.

He said: "I would question whether this is going to work. Certainly, we have a number of examples of people making money from offering to freeze various things. We have the examples of the cryo-banks and umbilical cord blood banks."

As well as his initial reservations, he said the treatment would lead to a maze of moral considerations. While he felt it was theoretically admirable to offer a young woman who suffers cancer and undergoes chemotherapy the opportunity to freeze an ovary, he poses the argument that a woman who has cancer in early life may carry a strong genetic "scar" and may not want to use her eggs in future conception.

Mr Nicholson was most wary of the technology for the implications it carried for women who chose to have it for reasons other than medical necessity.

He said: "People who seek to delay having a family and use this technology, that raises a lot of issues. I have a problem with people who wish to manipulate how they reproduce."

He warned that the medical, emotional and social side- effects to such a "manipulation" could not be underestimated or easily measured.

"The ill-effects may not be apparent for another generation and we need to be cautious about whether it is going to be beneficial to society.

"For a women with an early menopause, she has no choice in the matter of motherhood but if we allow women to use the technology to have families later in life, we need to question whether it is for the benefit of the woman or the child," he said.

Dr Alison Murdoch, a senior lecturer in reproductive medicine, said that because men had the facility of freezing their sperm offered to them years ago, there should not be such moral concern with regard to women.

She said: "We freeze sperm from men without any question so I would pose the question, 'Why not women?' Only recently, we had a case where a man with cancer froze his sperm and, after cancer treatment, took part in IVF treatment. We just haven't had the technology catch-up to make it possible for women."

Medical techniques used for infertility problems have grown sharply in recent years. There are a host of more controversial techniques on the way, including embryonic stem cell research as well as pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, where the embryo is tested for genetic disorders and potential deformities.