The Social and Ethical Implications of Assisted Reproductive Technologies
Test tube babies have long been stigmatized by society as the unnatural results of scientific dabbling. The words `test tube baby' have been used by school children as an insult, and many adults have seen an artificial means of giving birth as something perhaps only necessary for a lesbian woman, or a luxury item only available to the elite few. The reality is that assisted reproductive technologies (ART) have been helping infertile couples have children since 1978.1 The methods of in vitro fertilization, it's variants, and the other ART procedures are ways for persons that would otherwise have no hope of conception to conceive and, in a rapidly growing percentage of cases, give birth to healthy babies. As the technology has developed, the quality and range of assistance has developed as well. At present, the means of assisted reproduction and the capabilities of these procedures has grown at a somewhat dizzying pace. However, thought to the repercussions of the applications of ART are being disregarded to some extent while the public's knowledge and the understanding of embryologists and geneticists surges forward. It is possible given consideration to things such as the morality of these techniques, the unexplored alternative uses of these procedures, and the potential impact they posses that further development is unnecessary and possibly dangerous.
As of 1995, 20,000 babies had been born as a result of ART treatments.2 Since then, many women and couples have sought the services of IVF clinics all over the world with hopes of the miracle of conception. These people are usually ones who suffer from some sort of condition that renders them infertile or sterile. Women are usually afflicted by a reproductive disorder, such as endometriosis, blocked fallopian tubes, amenorrhoea, or ovarian failure, while men suffer from either an abnormality of, deficiency of, or complete absence of sperm.3 For most of these people, the only course of action is an artificial means of conception. Sometimes the problem is just a matter of timing, and all that is required is a timed schedule generated for the couples' attempts, and perhaps a few prescribed drugs. However, often the problem requires much more than those simple procedures.
When a couple is diagnosed with any of the aforementioned illnesses, they are given a number of options. These ART treatments, inclusive of in vitro fertilization (IVF), gamete intrafallopian transfers (GIFT), intracytoplasmic sperm injections (ICSI), cryopreservation (freezing) and donor oocyte (donor egg) programs, can be costly to couples, but well worth it.4 IVF and GIFT consists of basically the same procedure; in an IVF cycle, eggs and sperm are fertilized in a laboratory, and the resulting embryos are transplanted into either uterus or the fallopian tubes if they are healthy. In GIFT, the eggs are unfertilized when introduced with prepared...