NCER had the opportunity to comment in the Midlands section of the OWH concerning the ethics of IVF which was used in a complex and unusual birth last month at UNMC.
Midlands Voices: Complex births raise profound bioethical challenges
The Omaha World-Herald recently featured the birth of a precious baby girl, Uma. This birth was the result of a unique, complex effort by family members, each of whom was committed to bringing into existence a unique, unrepeatable and beautiful human being.
The efforts undertaken to create baby Uma raise broader and profound bioethical challenges that deserve attention and dialogue. These are ethical issues relevant not only to Uma’s birth, but also numerous other lives created by in vitro fertilization across the country and around the world. The ethical issues pertain to the creation, use and destruction of human life. The broader ethical question is this: Just because we can do something, should we?
To recap baby Uma’s story: Matthew and his husband, Eliot, desired a family. In order for them to have a child, Elliot’s sister, Lea, volunteered to donate her eggs to create human embryos using Matthew’s sperm via in vitro fertilization. One of the human embryos, Uma, was implanted into Matthew’s 61-year old mother, Cecile, who brought Uma to full term. The biological parents are Matthew and Lea; the legal parents at birth — listed on the birth certificate — were Matthew and Cecile; and, moving forward, Eliot will seek to establish legal parental rights.
The concerns to be addressed are ultimately rooted in the ethical and societal imperative to respect the dignity of human life at every stage of development (e.g., embryonic, fetal, neo-natal, adolescent, geriatric), and to protect against any harm or discrimination due to the person’s vulnerabilities.
In vitro fertilization involves the misuse and destruction of human life. Each human being created via this method has a unique DNA composition and an equal moral value to all other human beings who have been created. A departure from this principle leads to unjust discrimination against human life. For example, in vitro fertilization entails using pre-implantation screening to discriminate among the numerous human embryos who have been created, to implant the healthiest, most viable, or insert any other desired criteria (e.g., gender).
As well, further along into such a pregnancy, because multiple embryos are implanted to ensure the success of at least one, in vitro fertilization may require the “selective reduction” (i.e., abortion) of human beings in their fetal stage of human development, to carry the desired number of babies to term.
Furthermore, in vitro fertilization also raises the ethical problem of what happens with human embryos that have been created but not implanted. Are they to be frozen? And for how long? Are they discarded as waste? Or will they be the subject of scientific experimentation and destroyed in the process?
These unethical activities treat human life — at its embryonic and fetal stage of development — as commodities to be produced, used and discarded according to one’s personal desires. They affirm the idea that we can discriminate against a human being simply because of his or her genetic composition. And these activities further the misleading notion that if science can dream it, humanity should do it.
The strong desire for a family is a relatable and admirable human trait. Uma’s family members have shown great commitment and sacrifice to each other through their actions. However, we have a responsibility to respect and protect all human life at each point in his or her stage of development. Our personal desires and actions must be consistent with fundamental ethical and societal principles that do not dehumanize or discriminate against any human life. While these ethical principles may seem like boundaries and constraints, they ultimately engender authentic freedom which respects the life of our brothers and sisters in humanity and those of generations to come.
As we welcome with open arms the beautiful gift of Uma and wish her the best in this life, we also voice our concern for all other human beings who are subjected to unethical medical treatment and mourn the misuse and loss of their lives.