A few weeks ago, I attended the annual Oncofertility Consortium conference where Dr. Angel Petropanagos and I presented our poster “Teen Boys and Fertility Preservation: An Ethical Analysis.” The vast majority of discussions about fertility preservation (FP), particularly FP for “social” (aka nonmedical) reasons, are focused on women in part because FP for women raises more ethical issues. For instance, egg freezing carries more health risks and is generally less effective than sperm freezing. Furthermore, whereas sperm freezing has been an established method of FP for decades, it was only two years ago that the American Society for Reproductive Medicine lifted the experimental label from egg freezing.
Yet, even established technologies can raise ethical concerns when used in vulnerable groups, such as children. Our research project examines the ethical issues FP raises when used by teenage boys. In order to undergo sperm freezing, males must produce a sperm sample and this is usually done through masturbation. However, discussions about masturbation can be embarrassing and difficult for adolescent males (as well as for healthcare providers), particularly if they have never masturbated or never masturbated and achieved an ejaculation. Some parents and healthcare providers place a high value on preserving patients’ future option of genetic reproduction, but FP discussions with teen males can be especially challenging due to the sensitive and private nature of sexuality and reproduction.
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