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Reproductive technologies have the capacity to revolutionise lives. For instance, through the use of in-vitro fertilisation IVF, assistance has now been given to those who have problems in conception; also the use of PDGs prevents conception of severely abnormal children. Despite all these advantages, reproductive technologies have received immense levels of scrutiny from policy makers and other stakeholders. Consequently, advancement in these technologies has not been fully applied. Reproductive technologies present a series of challenges in terms of health and safety of parents and their offspring; they also pose several ethical dilemmas such as multiple births and costs. Given the complexity of such medical interventions, it is critical to offer custom made regulations to separate problems in reproductive technologies since sweeping regulations can cause unintended consequences. The paper will therefore argue for case by case regulation of specific reproductive technology issues.
How new reproductive technologies should be regulated
One issue that has brought a lot of concern in this field is prenatal screening. Many have associated this procedure with selective abortion claiming that potential parents are put in a position where they can choose to terminate a pregnancy if they realise that they might bear a child with severe deformity. The latter matter has generated a lot of heat and brought people back to the fundamentals of bioethics. Matters of conception and the right to life have been put forward. (Crowley, 2010) But it is essential to acknowledge that certain deformities may place weighty burdens on parents’ shoulders. Consequently, these parents should have the choice to decide whether or not they should keep a severely deformed child. To this end, parents who opt to forego prenatal screening need to be allowed to do so as the procedure may be objectionable to some. The United Kingdom has gone a long way in acknowledging the right to life of all individuals and it should therefore continue engaging in greater support to those who feel that they are okay with bearing a child with severe deformities. Nonetheless, the issue of screening has also been associated with voluntary termination of children without desirable features such as having the ‘wrong’ sex. A number of Asian countries have been known to carry out abortions as a result of their children’s sex. Policy makers need to step in and prevent subsequent termination because of such non health related reasons. In other words, regulation should be encouraged only to a slight extent i.e. when prenatal screening leads to voluntary termination as a result of non health related reasons (Human Genetics Commission, 2006). This will go a long way in ensuring that indiscriminate destruction of young lives does not occur. However, it may undermine the quality of life of the affected child because he or she may be born into a home where he/she was not wanted in the first place.
The latter mentioned issues are closely associated with PDGs or pre implantation genetic diagnosis where doctors carrying out in vitro fertilisation examine the genetic predisposition of the embryos that have been created and then choose the one with the least genetic complications for implantation. As a result, parents are prevented from having to suffer while raising a child with severe genetic disorders or having to be aware of the impending death of their child. Nonetheless, the issue of designer babies has arisen as a number of parties have chosen to select children on the basis of desirable traits. (Mehlman, 2007) This has raised eyebrows on the possibility of using PDGs as a means to only bear children with high intellectual abilities, musical talents and the like. Although PDGs currently detect basic traits, there are possibilities that this kind of technology can be used to make babies in a tailor made fashion. If these become realities, it would be more appropriate to regulate. In a world where perfection becomes the norm, the rights of those who fall short of such standards may be severely limited. Consequently, higher authorities need to step in and protect children who possess those undesirable traits as they are all entitled to their unique identities. (Ott, 2008). To this end, designer babies should be disallowed and only accepted for medical reasons alone.
Regulation should also be allowed in so far as the health issues of unborn children got from reproductive technologies are concerned. Currently, the Human fertilisation and embryology Act does not provide for set and structured follow up of these children’s lives. For instance, those born out of the use of IVFs need to be analysed throughout their life cycles so as to detect any possible oversights that may have been made and so as to curb possible complications later on. (Deech, 2008) This needs to be made possible for medical research teams that are working in the area of IVFs.
In vitro fertilisation has generated a lot of controversy in recent times especially after the case of an American mum who gave birth to octuplets in early 2009. The public was highly alarmed by her case because they realised that she was unemployed and unmarried – having to support fourteen children on her own. Although this was an extreme case, it does indicate some of the ethical dilemmas that can arise from reproductive technologies and therefore present new opportunities for regulation. Assisted reproductive technologies have the potential to impose difficult financial and health risks upon the lives of parents. In vitro fertilisation has been known to place parents in situations where they are likely to go through multiple births yet these children and mothers are at greater risk in multiple rather than single births. (Cahn, 2009)To this end, it is critical to acknowledge that regulation in terms of the number of births one can have through IVF can substantially reduce the risks to these respective individuals. The UK government has already acknowledged this fact and regulated the number of children that can be born through IVFs. The latter regulation is highly welcome because it minimises preterm delivery and all the problems to foetal growth that can occur due to multiple births. One must not also forget the fact that having numerous children can present a series of financial challenges to the concerned parent(s). (Asch and Marmor, 2010) On the other side of the coin is the fact that a mother has the right to decide what to do with her body and embryos that emerge from them. Since such a parent is often aware of the risks that may emerge from IVF, then it is her prerogative to decide to keep the multiple pregnancies or not. Besides, in certain circumstances, a parent may have been trying to conceive for a long time and may not have the financial resources to carry out several IVFs, she may therefore opt to implant more than one so as to maximise her chances of conceiving. Having examined the disadvantages and advantages of regulating multiple births in IVFs, it is evident that a parent does have rights to her own body, however, those rights are limited by health and safety concerns which should never take second place to preferences and opinions of the mother. To this end, regulation of multiple births to two should be allowed.
The provision of reproductive technology services needs to be regulated more heavily than it currently us. First of all, there have been cases of a number of individuals choosing to undergo procedures by clinicians who have not been fully ascertained in foreign countries. This is especially common in stem cell research in India which has grown as a hub for medical tourism from western nations. The problem with visiting such locations is that sometimes some preclinical studies on procedures may not have been carried out. Additionally, those said practitioners may not reveal any potential financial conflicts that could arise out of the problem. (Hyun, 2008). There may also be injuries that arise from treatments offered. Stem cell research still falls under reproductive health technologies because although its outcomes are used in treating non reproductive illnesses, the source of those stem cells has been through reproductive means. This area needs a lot of regulation since quality control is quite evasive here. A lot of these cases are being reported from outside of the UK where desperate UK patients opt to go for assistance in the hope of some miracle cure. The government needs to collect and publish information concerning any stem cell research centres with special emphasis given to those who downplay potential risks and who overstate possible cures like enhancing sexual performance. Peer review studies should be expected for these stem cell institutes for their procedures so as to ensure that items like case reports are not the sole source of accreditation. The major advantage with this kind of regulation is that the public will be made aware of what they could be getting into and scientists could be more cautious in engaging in risky treatment. On the other hand, it may be difficult to implement such regulations since practices are not just restricted to the United Kingdom.
A number of ethical issues revolve around the use of reproductive technologies. This is because creation, selection and implantation of embryos has its repercussions. In almost all controversial cases, the choice to regulate or not should be done based on the health of the embryo and the mother. Embryos have rights just as older children and these should be preserved as much as possible.
Deech, R. (2008). 30 Years: From IVF to Stem Cells, Nature 454 (1): 280-81.
Human Genetics Commission (2006). Making Babies: Reproductive, Decisions and Genetic Technologies. Web.
Hyun, I. (2008). Stem cells. London: Mc Millan Asch, A and Marmor, R (2010). Assisted Reproduction in From Birth to Death and Bench to clinic. Web.
Crowley, M. (2010). Bioethics matters –acknowledgements and introduction. Web.
Cahn, N. (2009). Test tube families. NY: Routledge
Ott, K. (2008). Religious ethics on reproductive technology. Web.
Mehlman, M. (2007). Genetic enhancement in the future society. Cleveland: Case western university press