Reproductive science can help people to become parents in spite of infertility, disease or age. However, these medical innovations have raised many ethical issues. How far can medicine go?
I When reproductive medicine means hope
Reproductive techniques have given hope to parents who can’t conceive a child naturally.
1 In vitro fertilization (IVF)
In vitro fertilisation is a medical treatment for infertility. It consists in combining a woman’s mature egg with a man’s sperm in a laboratory before implanting the resulting embryo into the woman’s womb. When necessary, this procedure can be implemented with donor eggs and sperm.
• the womb: l’utérus
• to implement: mettre en œuvre, exécuter
Louise Brown, the world’s first test-tube baby, was born in Britain in 1978. Since then, IVF has enabled many people, including same-sex couples, to become parents. Eight million IVF babies have been born in the world so far.
2 Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD)
PGD is a more advanced technique used to identify genetic disorders on embryos before they are implanted, which prevents these disorders from being passed on to the child.
The world’s first PGD was performed in 1989 in London with two couples at risk of transmitting a chromosomal disease. It enabled both mothers to get pregnant and give birth to healthy babies in 1990.
Since then, PGD has become increasingly popular. Thousands of children have been born following PGD treatment at hundreds of clinics all over the world.
Egg-freezing enables women to freeze their eggs while they are young and healthy. The eggs are stored until they want to start a family. This “fertility insurance” is getting more and more popular: there were 564 egg-freezing cycles in the USA in 2009 and 8,892 in 2016.
This technique was first used for cancer patients whose eggs are damaged by chemotherapy and radiation. It is now also used for women who are not ready to be mothers yet or who want to focus on their career before having children.
II Ethical dilemmas and responsibility
• a perk: un avantage en nature
• designer babies: des bébés sur mesure
• eugenics: eugénisme
These medical advances can be seen as a positive development of science but aren’t they going too far?
1 Social questions
More and more American companies offer egg freezing to their female employees as a perk. They argue they want to help them balance their family life and career. However, are they trying to bridge the gender gap or taking control of women’s lives?
Another concern is the cost of these innovating techniques. In the USA, some people spend more than $25,000 for a full cycle of egg-freezing or PGD. And when the implementation of the eggs doesn’t result in pregnancy, it can be even more expensive. Should people’s wealth have anything to do with parenthood?
2 Ethical issues
Today, many American fertility clinics offer the possibility to have “designer babies”: parents can resort to PGD to choose their child’s gender or its eye or hair colour. This selecting procedure has raised conflicting opinions and ethical concerns. Indeed, many people fear the risks of eugenics.
In the USA, PGD and egg-freezing aren’t regulated whereas it is the case in most European countries, where PGD is only allowed when it can prevent genetic diseases. Are state regulations the solution?
Or should we trust the scientists’ sense of ethics? In 2018, the Chinese geneticist He Jiankui claimed to have created genetically modified humans, which caused a general outcry from scientists around the world. When science makes babies, who should decide what can or cannot be done?