Topic: Fertility
January 28, 2016 | Posted By Claire Horner, JD, MA

Gestational surrogacy contracts have been in the news again recently as a gestational surrogate reports that the intended father, having discovered that she is expecting triplets, is demanding that she undergo selective reduction to abort one of the fetuses.  Situations such as these, while often not reported, are not necessarily uncommon.  In 2013, a gestational carrier was offered $10,000 to abort when a second trimester ultrasound discovered congenital heart and brain abnormalities.  Despite a well-established Constitutional right to privacy that includes a pregnant woman’s right to procure – or refuse – an abortion, surrogacy contracts routinely include provisions that not only prohibit a surrogate from having an abortion unless there is a medical need, but also give the intended parents sole discretion to determine whether the surrogate should abort where there is evidence of a physical abnormality or other issue.  Such provisions have not been tested in court, but would almost certainly be unenforceable based on the surrogate’s Constitutionally-protected right to reproductive autonomy.


In India, where there is an estimated $400 million surrogate tourism industry, women agree to be surrogates in exchange for $5,000-7,000, which is far more than they could make otherwise.  In many clinics, surrogates live in dormitories for the duration of the pregnancy and their food and medical care is provided by the clinic.  There are also reports that some clinics have policies against pregnancies of 3 or more fetuses – meaning that selective reduction may occur as a matter of course to reduce the number of fetuses to 2 or 1.  If this is in fact happening, are the surrogates (or even the intended parents) aware of what is happening?  Are they given a voice in the medical care and treatments they receive?  Or are the decisions made by the intended parents or the clinic, and simply imposed on the surrogate?


The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

December 29, 2015 | Posted By Claire Horner, JD, MA

“It is a disturbing consequence of modern biological technology that the fate of the nascent human life, which the Embryos in this case represent, must be determined in a court by reference to cold legal principles.”  Findley v. Lee, No. FDI-13-780539, 4 (Cal. Tentative Ruling Filed Nov. 18, 2015).

On November 18, 2015, the Superior Court of California issued a Tentative Decision and Proposed Statement of Decision holding that five embryos that were created and cryopreserved by a husband and wife, now divorced, must be destroyed in accordance with the agreement signed by the parties prior to beginning IVF.  According to the Court, the agreement contained, among others, a provision determining in advance the agreed-upon disposition of any remaining embryos in the event of divorce.  For this provision, both spouses initialed “thaw and discard.”  This “contractual approach” has been adopted by several jurisdictions that have had occasion to determine disposition of embryos in divorce.  In this analysis, courts will enforce an agreement signed by the parties prior to IVF as evidence of their intentions at the outset of the process.  

Courts in some states have decided such cases using different approaches.  The Constitutional rights approach (or balancing approach) looks at the interests of the parties, evaluating and balancing their respective rights, which seems to result in a comparison of the right to procreate and the right to avoid procreation.  This paradigm, in practice, has led courts to conclude that the right to avoid procreation typically prevails.  The contemporaneous mutual consent approach, on the other hand, attempts to reconcile the contractual approach with the current wishes of the parties by holding that pre-IVF agreements are valid and enforceable unless and until one of the parties changes his or her mind.  While this approach appears to recognize contracts, in practice a contract is disregarded where there is disagreement, and the embryos remain frozen until a mutual decision can be reached.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

June 29, 2015 | Posted By Lisa Campo-Engelstein, PhD
Apple recently announced that they will update their health app, HealthKit, to include reproductive health. Many were critical of the original app because although it can track a wide range of health indicators, such as BMI, sleep, sodium intake, number of falls, etc., it neglected reproductive health. Specifically, it is problematic that the app includes some obscure health indicators, like selenium intake, but not menstrual cycle, which affects half of the population. While there are other apps that are specifically geared toward women's reproductive health, it is troubling that an iPhone app that comes standard with the phone would exclude something so central to women's health as menstruation. Some believe that the omission of reproductive health from HealthKit is due to the fact that the tech world, including Apple, is dominated by men.  

The new the updated app is a huge improvement because it includes a variety of reproductive health indicators like menstruation, basal body temperature, and spotting. The broad range of reproductive health indicators helps women keep track of their reproductive health in general and specifically for women looking to prevent pregnancy and for women looking to achieve pregnancy. This is an important addition because too often reproductive health is overlooked or not considered part of "real" healthcare. The addition of the reproductive health category in HealthKit technology not only acknowledges the reproductive health issues specific to many women, but also normalizes them.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

May 19, 2015 | Posted By Lisa Campo-Engelstein, PhD

In my last blog, I discussed some of the problems with the definition of infertility, including that it is based mainly on women's bodies, which implies that men are less likely or not likely to be infertile, and it is based on heterosexual activity, which implies that single individuals and/or individuals in the LGBTQ community cannot experience infertility. I also distinguished between physiological infertility (i.e. infertility due to a biological condition such as low sperm count or blocked tubes) and social infertility (i.e. situational infertility, such as whether one has a partner and if so, if that partner is fertile and together one and one’s partner have the “right” parts to reproduce biologically). In this blog, I want to reflect more on that it means to be infertile and how the role social desire (i.e. the social desire to have biological children) plays in diagnosing this condition.

Imagine two women with the same exact circumstances: they are both 30 years old, in long term heterosexual relationships, and have been having unprotected sex regularly for the last 3 years. The only difference is that one woman, Jessica, wants to have biological children, while the other woman, Katie does not. Should they both be classified as infertile? How does their desire to have or not have biological children shape their medical diagnosis? Should their partners be labeled as infertile too? Does it matter whether Jessica and Katie are physiologically or socially infertile in classifying them as infertile? Does their partners’ interest in having biological children or lack thereof factor into determining if Jessica and Katie are infertile?

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.  

April 20, 2015 | Posted By Lisa Campo-Engelstein, PhD
The concept of infertility seems relatively straightforward, yet there are many myths, confusions, and disagreements regarding who counts as being infertile. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), infertility is "a disease of the reproductive system defined by the failure to achieve a clinical pregnancy after 12 months or more of regular unprotected sexual intercourse.”Like many definitions of infertility, this one is based on a woman's body since she is the one who experiences pregnancy. However, this definition may make it more difficult to understand and recognize male factor infertility.Indeed, defining infertility based solely on a woman's ability to achieve pregnancy reinforces the myth that women are more likely to be infertile than men. In reality, women and men are equally likely to be infertile. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) definition of infertility is more inclusive: “the inability of a woman or man to conceive a child or the inability of a woman to carry a pregnancy to term.”

Another concerned with the WHO definition of infertility is that it is based on being in a heterosexual relationship.According to this definition and many others like it, people can only be considered infertile if they engage in "regular unprotected sexual intercourse." This definition does not explicitly state that this it is referring to heterosexual intercourse, which is problematic. Given the narrow scope of this definition, how then should we diagnose infertility in lesbian and gay couples and heterosexual individuals who are singleand not engaging in regular unprotected sexual intercourse.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website. 

June 16, 2014 | Posted By Lisa Campo-Engelstein, PhD

In a recent blog, I asserted that assisted reproductive technology (ART) should be a higher priority for the global South because of the severe health, social, and economic effects infertility can have on women there. The most common response to this claim is that resources should first be devoted to treating and preventing life-threatening conditions, such as malaria and HIV/AIDS, rather than conditions that are perceived as merely social and/or psychological. The same response is often used when people suggest that ART should receive higher priority in the global North. Whereas many global North countries provide national health coverage for ART, the US does not. However, there has been movement toward coverage for ART in the US in the last couple of decades and currently 14 states require health insurance companies to cover ART (though there is a wide range of what is covered and under what circumstances). Unfortunately, oncofertility (fertility preservation for cancer patients) is not covered in any of these state laws.

While I understand the argument that limited healthcare resources should be dedicated to the most "pressing" conditions, it is also important to recognize the potential side effects of choosing not to provide coverage for oncofertility and other types of ART. One concern with the lack of coverage for ART is that it reinforces socioeconomic inequalities. The primary users of ART are white, educated, middle- and upper-class not because this group is the most likely to be infertile, but because they are the most likely to be able to afford the high cost of ART out-of-pocket expenses. Cancer patients from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are unlikely to have the large amount of disposable funds (the average cost for one cycle of IVF is around $12,400) for fertility preservation treatment. While “traditional” infertility patients can save their money over a period of time in order to be able to afford ART, cancer patients need to preserve their fertility before their cancer treatment commences and thus they need to be able to immediately provide the cash for fertility preservation treatment in order for it to occur. 

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

March 20, 2014 | Posted By Lisa Campo-Engelstein, PhD

While assisted reproductive technologies (ART) are common in most “developed” countries (the global North), in the global South (“developing” countries), ART is generally not available for a variety of reasons, most of which center around money. These resource-poor countries typically lack both qualified health-care professionals and facilities necessary for ART. Although some countries do have ART centers, the cost of ART is prohibitive for all but the extremely wealthy. Indeed, infertility is usually seen as a treatable problem only for the upper class primarily because the poor cannot afford basic health care let alone expensive treatment like ART. The fact that the majority of people in the global South cannot afford basic health care, which is typically seen as the top priority in health-care allocation, is another reason why ART are not readily available in the global South. Most public and private health-care funding goes toward primary care and not treatments that are often seen as elective and cosmetic, like ART.

Yet, infertility can be considered a health problem according to the World Health Organization's broad definition of health – “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Infertility in the global South can have severe and interrelated social, economic, and health-related consequences for women. This is still the case when the woman is physiologically fertile but her partner has male factor infertility; she is the one who is generally blamed for the couple’s inability to have a biological child.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

November 21, 2013 | Posted By Lisa Campo-Engelstein, PhD

As I’ve mentioned in a previous blogs, men only have 2 contraceptive options—male condom and vasectomy—and neither are long-acting reversible contraceptives. If more male contraceptives were developed, would men use them? Some empirical research shows many men would, especially young, urban, and educated men. Yet, skeptics say men don’t value pregnancy prevention to the same degree that women do so they won’t be motivated to use male contraception. Another common reason given for why men wouldn’t use male contraceptives is the fear that these contraceptives will emasculate them. Here I will discuss three social beliefs that contribute to this fear. 

First, many men believe that testosterone is a crucial factor in what makes them men. Though certain levels of testosterone in the body do result in what are usually classified as masculine characteristics, such as more body hair, more muscle tone, deeper voice, aggressive behavior, and stronger sex drive, the category ‘men’ is not just a biological one, it is also a social one. There are many cultural beliefs about what it means to belong to the category ‘men,’ one of which is that men have an uncontrollable libido. Most men want and feel pressured to adhere to these dominant conceptions of masculinity so that they are considered “real” men. 

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

September 17, 2013 | Posted By Lisa Campo-Engelstein, PhD

Testicular tissue cryopreservation is a neglected topic in the fields of fertility preservation and bioethics not only because reproduction is usually associated with women and girls, but also because sperm banking is an established, easy, and cheap method that works for the majority of male cancer patients. However, norms surrounding fatherhood are changing, with more men interested in active fatherhood, and consequently fertility preservation is becoming and will continue to become increasingly important to male cancer patients.

When compared to the number of studies demonstrating the importance of fertility to female cancer patients, the literature focusing on male cancer patients’ perspectives on fertility is minimal. However, there are more researchers examining the latter topic today than in the past. Contemporary research on gendered perspectives on fertility preservation reveals a shift over time: although older studies generally found that female cancer patients value their fertility

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

September 9, 2013 | Posted By Marleen Eijkholt, PhD

Sarah is 10 years old and has cancer. She has lymphoblastic lymphoma, an aggressive form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. News reports suggest that her parents and Sarah herself, decided to stop chemo treatment. “Sarah’s father said she begged her parents to stop the chemotherapy and they agreed after a great deal of prayer”. Sarah and her family are Amish. Reports note that they refused chemobecause the side effects made Sarah horribly sick, and that she was worried about losing her fertility. They decided to use a doctor who would attempt to treat the cancer with natural medicines, like herbs and vitamins. 

Over the last couple of days, their court battle has been outlined in the media. The hospital, where Sarah had been treated with chemotherapy, had applied for limited guardianship.  Guardianship would allow them to ‘force’ chemo therapy on her, particularly as they estimated her chance of long-term survival around 85% after treatment. Initially, this guardianship request was refused on grounds that it was the parents’ right to end treatment, while on appeal the judge ruled her best-interest had to be reconsidered. However, the most recent judgment reasoned that the parents were concerned and informed, that they have a right to decide about treatment for their child, that there was no guarantee for success of the chemo, and that guardianship & treatment would go against the girl’s wishes as it could cause her infertility. Guardianship was refused; Sarah’s health is governed by her parents.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

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BIOETHICS TODAY is the blog of the Alden March Bioethics Institute, presenting topical and timely commentary on issues, trends, and breaking news in the broad arena of bioethics. BIOETHICS TODAY presents interviews, opinion pieces, and ongoing articles on health care policy, end-of-life decision making, emerging issues in genetics and genomics, procreative liberty and reproductive health, ethics in clinical trials, medicine and the media, distributive justice and health care delivery in developing nations, and the intersection of environmental conservation and bioethics.
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