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Presentation – Making and Using Humans
Subject: The interdependent technologies of In Vitro Fertilization and stem cell research and cloning.
Purpose: Examination of the ethical, medical, social, and practical problems created by these technologies and the probable future problem areas which they legitimize.
First we will look at the basic steps of the IVF process.
Female egg provides three major capabilities to the process.
1st- One half of the DNA of the new human, DNA being the basic architecture
2nd- ‘Construction management’, a function poorly understood by science but one which is recognized as critical to the implementation of DNA in the construction of a human body
3rd- A built-in energy supply to maintain growth for the embryo until the placenta takes over
The sperm provides two functions
1st- The other half of the DNA
2nd- A ‘trigger’ to start the egg on its human development path
In Vitro (in glass) Fertilization – A process of mixing sperm and egg to meet and fertilize and form an embryo and then to grow that embryo by doubling (mitosis) a few times in a few days.
The embryo formed in the IVF process is, by scientific definition, a human being, This is a scientific fact, not a religious belief.
1- Living, it is growing by doubling about every 18 hours
2- A biological organism, a multi-cell, functioning, metabolizing, self-contained, system
3- A human species as defined by its DNA
The embryo, at about 32 to 64 cells, is mechanically implanted in a woman’s uterus. The woman’s uterus has been stimulated to be prepared to receive the embryo.
The woman will carry (gestate) the embryo/ fetus for the rest of a normal nine month pregnancy.
The original intent of IVF was that the mother and father were couples with little hope of conceiving a child through normal means, that is they had an infertility problem of some kind.
This is the normal practice.
While the Catholic Church bans this practice (a fact unknown to many Catholics) there are many non-religious problem areas with IVF.
First problem- Health of the egg donor
The process of obtaining female eggs is non-trivial. The woman undergoes a series of hormone shots to stimulate her ovaries. This process usually involves considerable discomfort and causes death in an estimated 1% of cases. These deaths are carefully hidden and the estimates are strongly disputed but there are few studies and no regulation of this IVF industry.
Next problem- Health of the child
While Louise Brown, the original “test tube baby” is now almost 30 years old and apparently healthy and an estimated 100,000 children have been IVF conceived there have been no follow-up studies of these children.
We don’t know!
Next problem – Economics
The cost of one cycle of IVF treatment is typically in the $10,000 to $15,000 range. Since the probability of a “take home baby” is about 30% most clients have to undergo multiple cycles with the average cost approaching $50,000.
While this is acceptable to some segments of the population it places significant limits on use by lower income segments.
Next problem – Parents?
A growing problem arises from the lack of a necessary connection between the providers of the egg and sperm and the parents/ owners? of the resulting child.
Often the couple’s fertility problem requires obtaining sperm or eggs from outside sources.
Of greater concern is the growing market for IVF children for single people, gay couples or singles, and conceivably, though monstrous, for organizations.
Next problem – Family?
Here the potential damage to children and to the fundamental concept of the family as the bedrock of civil society can be immense.
Next problem- Expectations
Yet another abuse resulting from the disconnection of the conception process from the parenting process is the probability, indeed the likelihood, of custom or designer children. The basic thinking is that “If we are spending this much money for a child and buying sperm and eggs, why not the best?”
Good looking girls with high SATs can command high prices ($10,000 and up) for their eggs. (Sperm is cheaper.)
Next problem – New Billion $ Business
Now the price of a child goes up even more. But the “wanters” can afford it!
Next problem – No handicapped people?
However now that a couple is spending perhaps $100,000 for a child they certainly do not want a lemon. Technology now has an answer for that. It is called Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis or PGD.
While the embryonic child is still in the Petri dish science now allows the testing of that child’s genes. Only those embryos without defects will be implanted.
A precedent for this is testing for Down’s Syndrome in the womb, an easier test that is already quite common. A recent study estimated that about 87% of unborn children with suspected (not necessarily confirmed) Down’s syndrome are now being aborted.
Next problem – We’re almost at that Brave New World
Science can manufacture the child that we want and ensure that it is defect free.
It is being done today.
Doctors are now being sued for wrongful births.
Next problems – Motherhood?
Another “freedom” enabled by IVF technology is the use of a surrogate mother, that is the ability to “rent a womb” for the 9 months of gestation.
A societal problem with this is that the most likely surrogates are poorer women.
Next problem – “Spare” embryos
Getting back to that embryo in the Petri dish we need to note that there are more one embryos in that dish. The practice of IVF is to stimulate the woman’s ovaries to produce more than the normal one egg at a time, typically 8 to 12 eggs. They are almost all fertilized in the dish but only 2 or 3 are implanted. The remaining 5 or 10 embryos are “spares” and are usually frozen for potential future use.
It is estimated that there are about 400,000 embryos in lab freezers in the US.
It should be noted that in Germany, a country with some experience with unethical medical research, laws prohibit IVF clinics from removing and fertilizing more eggs than will be implanted in one cycle. There are essentially no “spare” embryos in Germany.
Next problem – Temptation for scientists
These “spare” embryos represent the primary source for Embryonic Stem Cell Research. The process of extracting stem cells from an embryo kills that embryo.
The justification is that the research is valuable and necessary to develop cures for important human diseases and that the “spare” embryos will ultimately die anyway.
- The value argument is certainly true.
- - The necessity may be true depending on the success of using other types of stem cells.
- - Killing the embryos is ethically unacceptable regardless of their potential future death and should be banned regardless of the other arguments.
Next problems – More abortions
- Distortion of ethics
The term for this action of killing embryos is abortion, that is the deliberate killing of an unborn human being.
Ends (Cures) can never justify means (Abortions)
Another rhetorical argument used to justify this action is that embryos are “human non-persons”, a concept with horrific potential consequences.
Next problem – A new form of lab rat
Lets look at another technology related to IVF – Cloning. Cloning, like IVF, starts with a female egg but unlike IVF the nucleus of the egg, the part that includes the DNA, is removed. The nucleus is replaced with the nucleus of a cell, any kind of cell, from another person. This nucleus contains a complete set of DNA, not just half.
Next problem – A true human being
This now “fertilized” egg is stimulated to begin growing, the trigger normally provided by a sperm cell, and is now a living embryo with DNA identical to the person from whose somatic cell the nucleus was transferred. The cloning process is complete at that point.
The fuzzy term used to replace the term cloning is Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer or SCNT.
Next problem – Lying scientists
At this point the stem cell research industry goes into high gear distortion. If that embryo is to be killed for stem cell research the process is called Therapeutic Cloning. If that embryo is to be implanted in a woman’s uterus to produce a child the process is called Reproductive Cloning.
The fact is that the embryo is already a clone regardless of how it is to be used.
This distortion proved valuable to the stem cell research industry last November in Missouri. The people of Missouri approved a law to “Ban Human Cloning”. The law bans Reproductive Cloning but encourages and funds Therapeutic Cloning.
Next problem – A life not for itself
Getting back to IVF we can begin to see how these lab technologies can come back into our everyday world.
A small but increasing number of cases are appearing in which a couple bears a child with a serious genetic disease. The cure for that disease is cells from a genetically similar person without that disease. The couple conceives another child and, using IVF and PGD, ensures that the second child meets those requirements.
The second child can be termed a Saviour Sibling.
Next problem- Expanded limits on experiments
Back to the lab side of these technologies. While stem cell research (using all kinds of stem cells) will produce cell-based cures for various diseases the “Holy Grail” for this research is to produce replacement organs such as hearts, kidneys, etc.
While laboratory techniques today can only maintain a growing embryo for about two weeks, well short of the time necessary to develop functioning organs, future technologies will very likely extend this time window into months or well into the fetal stage of human development.
A law allowing and potentially funding such fetal research was enacted in New Jersey last year.
Next problems – One life for another
- A meeting of wants and means
Ultimately the cultural distortions that enable and justify IVF, PGD, surrogate motherhood, and saviour siblings will meet the technological advances of cloning and stem cell and fetal research on “human non-persons” to produce a new category of Spare Parts Human non-persons.