INTRODUCTION • The first test-tube baby, Louise Brown, was born on 25 July 1978 at Oldham and District General Hospital. • The consultant PATRICK STEPTOE was part of the team that developed in vitro fertilisation (IVF). • Today IVF is used throughout the world to help women who are unable to conceive naturally.
These ‘test-tube babies’ raise a number of ethical problems. • The most important of these is whether people have a right to a child.
The right to a child • CRISTOBAL ORREGO says that a right is something that is due to a person because that individual qualifies for it – so who qualifies for the right to a child? • There are 2 answers to this question:
A woman is a free agent. Freedom includes: • a woman’s right to use her body however she thinks fit and • the freedom of choice. It can be argued the women should have the right of freedom of choice if IVF is available.
2. Natural Rights - Many women have a natural urge to be a mother. Therefore, to deny a woman motherhood is against her natural rights. However, the naturalistic fallacy can be used to counter this argument. A woman may, by nature, be motherly, but this does not mean that she has the right to be a mother.
Some scholars say that IVF treatment is not a right but a liberty. A liberty is a privilege given to the individual by society. It can be withdrawn if society thinks it is being abused or is not in the interests of the majority. • A woman’s urge for a baby is a desire, not a right.
Recently there has been a growth in the number of older women in their 50s and 60s having IVF treatment. • In 2006, a Spanish woman, MARIA DEL CARMEN BOUSADA, aged 67, gave birth to twins. Did she have a right to a child?
This case highlighted the problem of conflicting rights. • Maria died in 2009 at the age of 69. She left behind her two year old children. • Don’t the two young children left without a mother have rights too?
If it is considered morally wrong for a woman in the 60s or 70s to give birth to a child, because of the subsequent effect on the child, then there is no universal moral right to have children. • Such a right cannot be universalised.
Do single people have the right to have a child? • Do same-sex couples have the right to have a child?
IVF – other moral issues • What is the moral status of the fertilised embryos that are not implanted into the woman? This is the spare embryoproblem.
When eggs have been fertilised only 2 or 3 are implanted back into the woman. The embryos are graded and the best ones chosen for implantation. • What happens to the unused embryos?
In the UK a. The embryos may be frozen and made available for later implantation. b. They may be used in medical research or donated to other women. c. Alternatively they may be destroyed. (If used in medical research all embryos must be destroyed within 14 days of fertilisation).
When does personhood begin? • Should embryos be graded, like eggs in a supermarket? • It is argued that human embryos should not be regarded as objects or things.
2. What is the moral status of the biological father when he is not the spouse/partner of the mother? This is the donor father problem.
In the UK clinics can only pay expenses such as travel and loss of earnings to the donor. This is not the case in other countries. Commercialisation raises important issues about the relationship of the donor to the child.
A further problem is the right to know. Children born using donor sperm may wish to know their biological father later in life. • Before April 2005 donors could remain anonymous. • Children conceived after this date have the right to access details about the donor when they are 18. • However, donors can still refuse contact with their donor-conceived child. This can be psychologically damaging to the child.
Legally, donor fathers are not required to take on any responsibilities for their donor-conceived children, but what moral responsibilities does a donor father have? • What about a woman who has donated eggs?
3. What moral issues are raised by multiple births? In the UK, women under 40 can have two embryos implanted, and women over 40 three. But in some countries larger numbers are implanted to increase the chances of success. This can result in multiple births, with as many as 8 babies being born.
This can pose dangerous health risks to the woman and the children. The mother may also have difficulty taking care of a large number of children.
4. Who should be permitted to have IVF? This issues relates to the age and sexualityof the parent-to-be. • In the UK treatment is restricted to those under 50, but in other countries women in their late 50s, 60s and even 70s have had children after fertility treatment. • Some think this goes against the natural order of things. • It also means that parents will be very elderly or even dead when their children are teenagers.
There is also the question of providing fertility treatment to single women and to lesbian couples. • In October 2009 the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act was amended so that clinics no longer have to consider the ‘need for a father’ when assessing suitability for fertility treatment. • Instead people will be assessed on their ability to offer supportive parenting.
The result is that lesbian couples can no longer be refused fertility treatment on the grounds of sexual orientation. In the eyes of the law, all women have an equal right to fertility treatment; the moral question is whether all women and all men have a right to a child.