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Topic: Reproductive Medicine
February 24, 2014 | Posted By Lisa Campo-Engelstein, PhD

There is a cultural perception that women are very likely to cause fetal harm, reflected in limitations on women’s participation in clinical trials and certain jobs, public service announcements telling women not to drink alcohol while pregnant, and extensive media coverage of ‘‘crack babies.’’ The long history of the medical realm treating women’s bodies as weak, permeable, and inherently diseased contributes to the worry that women’s bodies will ‘‘infect’’ fetuses. Men’s bodies, in contrast, are as seen as stable, bound, and healthy; therefore, they are not a risk to fetuses. However, this belief is scientifically inaccurate. Men’s behaviors and characteristics can cause paternal-fetal harm. For instance, paternal smoking and drinking can result in an increased chance of birth defects and low birth weight. Paternal use of illegal drugs (such as cocaine, hashish, opium, and heroin) can also lead to fetal health problems because of abnormal sperm. Additionally, older paternal age has been associated with a higher risk of children with autism, Down syndrome, and schizophrenia.  

Despite these scientific facts, there is little public and academic discussion of men and fetal harm, which implies that men do not (or cannot) cause such harm. The cultural narrative that men are not causally or ethically responsible for fetal harm has been reified in law, policy, medicine, and the media.  Even the language we use to discuss reproduction and childcare minimizes the role men play in reproduction. The verb “to father” is synonymous with ‘‘to sire’’ and refers to impregnating a woman, that is, the one time event of fertilization. In contrast, “to mother” refers to constant caregiving and nurturing. 

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.

January 23, 2014 | Posted By Lisa Campo-Engelstein, PhD
When we think about organ transplantation, the organs that usually come to mind are the heart, or possibly the kidney, the most commonly transplanted organ. Transplantations are generally regarded as necessary to the life of the person receiving the transplant or to physiologically improving that life: the transplant is seen as making the recipient “whole” once more. The idea of wholeness that a transplant renders can extend beyond the physiological to the individual, the familial, and the cultural; this can be seen dramatically in the case of ovarian transplantation. The donor ovary, and with it the potential of restored fertility and the hope of pregnancy and thus motherhood, is a surgical means to make her whole.

Stephanie Yarber entered menopause for no apparent reason at age 14. Her identical twin sister, Melanie Morgan, maintained her fertility and donated eggs to Yarber. However, after at least two failed IVF cycles in her early 20s,Yarber was broke. Through her research on infertility treatment, she stumbled across Dr. Sherman Silber’s work on testicle transplants and discovered that his practice focused on infertility problems in both men and women. Thinking that a similar gonadal transplant could be possible in women, Yarber called Silber to ask if he thought an ovary transplant was “a crazy idea.” Silber, who had been considering the possibility of an ovarian transplant since the testicle transplant, jumped at the opportunity to try this procedure, telling Yarber “I’ve been waiting for your call for 30 years.”
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 20, 2013 | Posted By Lisa Campo-Engelstein, PhD

There are many celebrities who make the news because they have used a gestational surrogate to have their children, including Sarah Jessica Parker, Guiliana Rancic, Elizabeth Banks, Nicole Kidman, Ricki Martin, Neil Patrick Harris, and Elton John. From the little information provided about their surrogacy arrangements, it seems like most of the celebrities partner with surrogates who live in the US. What is almost never mentioned in these articles is the legality and enforceability of surrogacy contracts, which can vary dramatically from state to state. Each state has to determine how they want to regulate surrogacy because there is no federal legislation, though there was a push for it following the infamous Baby M case. 

Surrogacy laws can be categorized into three categories. The first category is comprised of laws that permit surrogacy contracts by outlining the criteria for the contracts to be lawful and enforceable. For example, surrogacy laws in Florida require that the intended couple must be over 18 years old and married, the intended mother must be incapable of gestating a pregnancy without physical risk to herself or the fetus, and at least one of the intended parents must be biologically related to any resulting child. These requirements have to be fulfilled in order for any surrogacy contract to be legal and enforceable.

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.

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

Some physicians will write prescriptions in advance for young women so they can have immediate access to emergency contraception if the need arises. In order to be most effective, emergency contraception should be used within a few days of unprotected sex. Writing prescriptions for emergency contraception in advance makes it easier for women to take it right away and can reduce barriers they may face in trying to access it when they are under time pressure. My goal in this blog is to discuss some of the ethical issues raised by physicians writing preventive prescriptions for emergency contraception.

Some are concerned that the practice of physicians writing prescriptions in advance for emergency contraception will condone, and even encourage, young women’s sexual activity, especially premarital and "promiscuous" sexual activity. As with nonemergency forms of contraception and the HPV vaccine, some believe preventive measures against the risks involved with sexual activity are a tacit endorsement of sexual activity. On a related note, even if people did not oppose young women's sexual activity, they may still be concerned that writing prescriptions in advance for emergency contraception will discourage young women from using nonemergency contraception.  

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.

October 7, 2013 | Posted By Ricki Lewis, PhD

On September 24, the direct-to-consumer genetic testing company 23 and Me was granted patent no. 8543339, covering the selection of traits in offspring by genotyping eggs and sperm. (“Gamete donor selection based on genetic calculations.”) An analysis of the ethical issues the patent raises is published today in Genetics in Medicine. (Coincidentally, a co-author of the paper was so critical of a recent DNA Science blog post that comments had to be cut off. Small world.)

I’d started thinking about today’s post a few weeks ago, when a prominent science writer posted on a listserv “What was the CEO of AAAS thinking?” and then quoted Alan I. Leshner telling the New York Times: “K-12 students need to know the nature of science, how scientists work and the domains and limits of science. Science can’t tell you about God. Or when life begins.”

“Um…when life begins is a pretty basic idea in biology,” commented the originator of the compelling listserv thread that followed. Actually, no.

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.

August 23, 2013 | Posted By Lisa Campo-Engelstein, PhD

Unlike organs, the U.S. allows gametes to be purchased. Given this dichotomy between the legal treatment of gametes and the legal treatment of organs, the question then arises: how should we legally classify ovaries, which can be used to treat both reproductive conditions (infertility) and non-reproductive conditions (premature menopause)?  

I believe ovarian tissue should be aligned with gametes rather than organs. I recognize that this leads to concerns about the sale of ovarian tissue (e.g., price, access, limitations, etc.). However, ovarian tissue like gametes and unlike other types of transplant, can lead to pregnancy, a socially and ethically important difference. The potential to create a new life is significant because new life often engenders new relationships and legal responsibilities. Whereas organ donors, both living and cadaveric, can remain anonymous, gamete donors typically cannot, at least not fully anonymous. Gamete donors are generally required to provide personal information on a variety of topics, such as physical characteristics, family medical history, religion, personal achievements, and personality traits. Potential recipients (and fertility centers) are usually the only ones who have access to this personal information. 

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.

July 25, 2013 | Posted By Benita Zahn, MS

The law in the United States is clear that once a person has completed their prison sentence and parole they are free to go on and live their lives. The state does not have continued control over them. While some might argue that for sex offenders and regulations regarding where they may live impinges on this, that narrow issue is not the focus of this paper. I will argue that castration, chemical or physical, is antithetical to our society. 

The eighth amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. Mutilation would be considered cruel and unusual punishment and castration clearly falls under that banner. It involves a surgical procedure to remove the testicles or in women, the removal of their ovaries. One need to look no further than to realize physical castration to control sexual predators should not be permitted.    

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.

July 15, 2013 | Posted By Lisa Campo-Engelstein, PhD

Despite the fact that fertilization requires mutual, active participation by both eggs and sperm, gender roles are often projected onto reproductive biology, leading to the portrayal of eggs as passive and sperm as active. For example, the opening credits in the 1989 movie Look Who’s Talking portray a common perception of fertilization. As the Beach Boys’ song “I Get Around” plays in the background, we see sperm inside a women’s reproductive tract moving toward her egg. The scene is narrated by one of the sperm, though we can hear some of the other sperm talking. The narrating sperm tells the others, “Ok, follow me … I know where we’re going … I’ve got the map. Follow me kids, keep up.” Upon seeing the egg, the sperm says “I think I see something … this is it, this is definitely it … jackpot!” to which another sperm relies “Yee haw!” We then see a bunch of sperm on the outside of the egg, seeking entrance through the egg membrane – a difficult task as evidenced by the lead sperm stating, “kinda tough here.” The egg then envelopes one sperm as it cries “Ohhh, ohh, I’m in, I’m in.” In this scene, the egg is portrayed as passive, merely drifting along waiting to be discovered by the sperm, whereas the sperm is active, strong, and on a mission to reach the egg. 

A colleague and I were interested in seeing if this misperception of fertilization is limited to the media or if it is also seen in scientific writing. We analyzed science textbooks from the middle school to the medical school level to determine if fertilization in human reproduction is described in gender biased language regarding the sentence structure, amount of information provided for female and male processes/parts, and neutrality in describing female and male processes/parts.

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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