Helping with human fertility treatments in an IVF department
Is IVF ethical?
IVF provides couples who cannot concieve naturally with the opportunity to create a family and have children of their own. In the US 8.5% of couples are involuntarily infertile. This means that they will not be able to have children of their own without medical intervention. Should doctors be allowed to play God in chosing who to give new life?
There are alot of ethical questions based around the donation of spare frozen embryos for research. For people who believe that you become human at the point of conception, when the egg fuses to the sperm, the idea of donating an embryo which has already been fertilised to be used for research can be compared with donating a child to be broken down and used for research. For this reason all embryonic research is regulated by Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) as well as the Human Tissue Authority (HTA).
With the leaps in technology for gentic sequencing which have taken place in the past decade, the DNA of embryos can now be sequenced. This is typically used in a process known as Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD), where couples who have a high risk of passing on a genetic disorder, such as Huntington’s disease, Cystic fibrosis or Sickle cell anemia. Although this is seen as beneficial both to the couple who reduce the chance of having a child with a serious disability and also to society, who won’t need to support a child with one of these life changing disabilities, it could also be abused with the possibility of couples choosing the gender of their child. This could be further abused to give couples choices of specific features of their future child and creates the idea of designer babies.
Who should be allowed a ‘test tube baby’?
When IVF was first introduced, hospitals used an analogy with adoption. If a couple who wanted IVF satisfied the criteria needed to be suitable foster parents, they could undergo IVF treatment. This meant if someone was not suitable as an adoptive parent, they wouldn’t be given any fertility treatments. Surely this sort of decision shouldn’t be based on eligibility of parenting: some fertile couples may not be eligible using this test, but have children anyway.
Currently, the criteria for parents is controlled by HFEA, however IVF treatment is also controlled to a certain extent by the funding provided. Couples can fund their treatments themselves, but IVF treatments are expensive without a certain outcome. IVF in the UK can be funded by the NHS, however there are strict criteria for funding and limited funding per patient. Patients often face stricter criteria depending on their postcode and have to have tried to conceive naturally with their partner for several years.
What does IVF mean for the future of hereditory diseases?
With PGD screening, embryos can have their DNA sequenced to look for genetic diseases. This can help to reduce the number of children born with crippling illnesses such as cystic fibrosis. In the future with more certain genetic tests, ‘test tube babies’ may even be healthier than naturally conceived babies. This is because at the initial stages of IVF, the embryos could all have their genomes sequenced to find the probability that they develop specific diseases later on in life such as Alzheimers or other diseases which more or less common depending on certain genes.
IVF won’t remove hereditary diseases from the gene pool, however it may help reduce the number of cases. IVF may be encouraged for parents who have a high risk of passing on a hereditary disease to ensure their children are healthy.