Ethics Issues Surrounding Fertility Treatments


Ethics of Fertility Treatment and Multiple Births

Controversy ensued over the ethics of fertility treatment in the case of the mother of six who became pregnant and gave birth to octuplets with the aid of fertility treatments, making her the single mother of an incredibly large brood. While this subject raised many eyebrows and caused much debate, the ethical decision to allow this woman treatment is considered by many experts, including fertility expert Dr. Peter Weiss, as "not for the doctors to judge."

Denise Dador, eyewitness health specialist for ABC7 News Team, covers the story in which Weiss goes on to say, "A doctor has to see what the situation is." The doctor might evaluate the situation by asking if the relationship or marriage is new, if there are problems with the existing children and make a decision based on those questions.

Infertility Specialists and Treatments

An infertility specialist at a fertility clinic performs infertility treatments. These specialists are also referred to as reproductive endocrinologists and have extensive training in their field, including:

  • Four years of reproductive endocrinology training
  • An additional four-year education at a medical school
  • Residency in obstetrics and gynecology
  • A two to three year fellowship in the field.

The treatments given depend upon the cause of infertility and the clinic, but generally include:

  • Fertility drugs
  • IVF (in vitro Fertilization)
  • Surgery
  • Donor Eggs
  • Surrogacy
  • GIFT(gamete intrafallopian transfer)
  • ZIFT (zygote intrafallopian transfer)

Infertility affects approximately 10 percent of the population, both men and women. Many women seek fertility treatments to help overcome these obstacles with medical intervention, including fertility therapies, medication and even surgery. A doctor would consider any woman who has been unable to conceive for a period of more than a year of unprotected intercourse infertile and a possible candidate for any of these treatments.

Welfare of the Child

The ethics of fertility treatment often pertain to who should receive the treatment, rather than if the treatments themselves are ethical. The United Kingdom statute (which is effective only in the U.K.) known as the Human Fertilization and Embryology Act, a much-disputed issue in the 1980s that became a law in 1990 is said to restrict access to fertility treatment considerably. A noteworthy discussion took place during the passage of the Act, which culminated into a clause in the Act known as the 'welfare of the child' clause. This states that doctors should consider the welfare of any child that could be born because of treatment and of those who might also be affected by the birth.

U.S Restrictions

In the Untied States, restrictions vary from state to state, but guidelines are loose, allowing the doctor to determine who should receive the treatments. In some states, like California, doctors cannot turn patients away due to sexual orientation. For the most part, almost no formal policies exist to decide which procedures should be legal, how many babies a woman can carry at once and how old she must be.

Ethical Fertility Treatments

It is not certain which fertility treatments the octuplet's mother received, however the goal of any ethical treatment should be avoiding unsafe multiple births. Codes of conduct are in place to deter these births, and include how many embryos should be transferred into a woman's uterus. In Dador's ABC reports, claims are made that the mother had eight embryos transferred, making the practice unethical by conventional standards. Multiple births can be risky and complicated. Dangers to the mother as well as the babies exist. Those risks include extremely premature babies, kidney or lung damage, mental retardation, and poor growth.

"Most physicians would not put in more than two or three pregnancies or try and get two or three eggs at a time," claims Weiss.

Side Effects and Conclusions

The side effects related to fertility treatments include emotional strain, physical discomfort and pain. Considerable costs are also involved. Whether the treatments are ethical and for whom they should be granted remains the decision of doctors, though each patient should explore the side effects and weigh all options.

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Ethics Issues Surrounding Fertility Treatments