Thursday, November 13, 2008

What will you do? (9)

Mary and Theng Huat have been undergoing treatment for infertility for over a year. Recently, they went through a round of in vitro fertilization (IVF). Mary’s fertility doctor retrieved 12 eggs and fertilised them with Theng Huat’s sperm, which resulted in ten embryos. Three were transferred to Mary’s uterus: the other seven were frozen in the clinic for later use. None of the first three embryos implanted resulted in a pregnancy, but on the second cycle of treatment Mary became pregnant with twins. A year or so after the birth of a healthy girl and boy, Mary’s gynaecologist sent a letter asking whether or not she and her husband had decided what they wanted to do with their four frozen embryos.The letter indicated that if they no longer wanted them stored, they should call Mr Tan at the clinic.

‘What do you think?’ Mary asks Theng Huat after opening the letter. They haven’t made up their minds whether they want any more children, but they are also unsure about what happens to the embryos if they say they don’t want them. So Mary calls Mr Tan and asks him about this. ‘If you remember, we discussed this when you signed the consent form for the treatment’ he replies. ‘Of course, you can simply have us throw the frozen embryos away, if you no longer need them, but it would be much more sensible for you to donate them for embryonic stem cell research.’ ‘What’s that?’ Mary asks. Mr Tan explains, ‘It is research that uses embryos to develop new medical treatments. We think this research holds tremendous promise for treating conditions like diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.’

That evening Mary discusses donation with her husband over dinner. Theng Huat observes that his father has already benefited from experimental stem cell treatment for his heart disease, so donating their embryos for further stem cell research would probably be a good idea. ‘I would agree with you’ says Mary ‘but I seem to recall they used your father’s own cells to develop the treatment for his heart condition. We would be letting them use embryos instead. Is that really the same thing?’

What issues does this story raise?

What will you do?




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