Case Study # 4 – Assisted Reproduction:
This is a difficult subject because it involves reproductive issues. In our culture, reproductive liberty, the freedom to decide when and where to conceive a child is highly protected, and this can make these cases much more difficult.
There are two types of surrogacy. One type involves a surrogate mother who uses her own egg and carries the baby for someone else. The other type is a “gestational surrogacy” in which the mother has no genetic tie to the child she carries. In the case presented, a gestational surrogate is used.
A woman, after a bout with uterine cancer had a hysterectomy (surgical removal of the uterus). Before, its removal, however, she had several eggs removed for possible fertilization in the future. Now married, the woman wishes to have a child with her husband. Obviously she cannot bear the child herself, so the couple utilizes a company to find a surrogate mother for them. The husband’s sperm is used to fertilize one of the wife’s eggs, and is implanted in the surrogate mother. The couple pays all of the woman’s pregnancy-related expenses and an extra $18,000 as compensation for her surrogacy. After all expenses are taken into account the couple pays the woman approximately $31,000 and the agency approximately $5,000. Though the surrogate passed stringent mental testing to ensure she was competent to carry another couple’s child, after carrying the pregnancy to term, the surrogate says that she has become too attached to “her” child to give it up to the couple. A legal battle ensues.
Questions for Case 1:
- In the United States it is illegal to pay a person for non-replenishable organs. The fear is that money will influence the poor to harm their bodies for the benefit of the rich. Do you see a parallel between this case and this law? Can allowing surrogate mothers to be paid for their troubles allow poorer women to be oppressed?
- Does paying the surrogate harm her and/or the child’s dignity?
- Is it selfish/conceited for this couple to want children of their own genetic make-up? If yes, does this change if you can “easily” have a child? (Note: Over 100,000 children in the U.S. are waiting to be adopted. However, most are older, have several siblings, or have special needs.)
- On their website, the AMA says “that surrogacy contracts [when the surrogate uses her own egg], while permissible, should grant the birth mother the right to void the contract within a reasonable period of time after the birth of the child. If the contract is voided, custody of the child should be determined according to the child’s best interests.” Do you see any problems with this? (What’s a reasonable time? In a way can you steal the surrogate’s child?)
- One of the main arguments against the use of surrogate mothers is that carrying and giving birth to a child is such an emotional event that it is impossible to determine if the surrogate will be able to give up the child. Though adults enter into the contract, the child could ultimately suffer if a long custody battle ensues (as it could in states where surrogacy contracts hold no legal value, such as Virginia). With the possibility of such battles, do you think it is acceptable for parents to use a surrogate mother?
- Do you think that if the surrogate is awarded the baby, this could cause emotional harm to the child?
- Who do you think should receive the child, and why?
A married couple wishes to have a child; however, the 32 year old mother knows that she is a carrier for Huntington’s disease (HD). HD is a genetic disorder that begins showing signs at anywhere from 35-45 years of age. Its symptoms begin with slow loss of muscle control and end in loss of speech, large muscle spasms, disorientation and emotional outbursts. After 15-20 years of symptoms HD ends in death. HD is a dominant disorder which means that her child will have a 50% chance of contracting the disorder. Feeling that risking their baby’s health would be irresponsible, the couple decides to use in vitro fertilization to fertilize several of the wife’s eggs. Several eggs are harvested, and using special technology, only eggs that do not have the defective gene are kept to be fertilized. The physician then fertilizes a single egg, and transfers the embryo to the mother. Approximately 9 months later, the couple gives birth to a boy who does not carry the gene for the disorder.
- Is this a case of eugenics? “Eugenics” is defined as “the hereditary improvement of the human race controlled by selective breeding” (dictionary.com)
- Would it be acceptable for the parents to select for sex as well, or should they only select an embryo that does not have HD? How would this be different?
- Is it ethical for this couple to have a baby when the mother could begin showings signs of HD when the baby is just a few years old?
- With this technology possible, would it be ethical for this couple to have a child without genetically ensuring it would not have the disease? What if we did not have this technology, would it be ethical for a known carrier to have a child? (If not, how far should this carry? a carrier for cystic fibrosis ( which is recessive)? )
- Weighing everything we have discussed, do you believe the couple acted ethically?