Of embryos and ethics


The ever present ethical questions surrounding the donation of ovum, sperm, gametes and embryos and how informed the donating parties should be regarding the destiny of their donations continues to evolve and refine. The National Institutes of Health came out with ethical guidelines in March 2009, however bioethicist Bernard Lo, MD of a UCSF research team already thinks those guidelines are inadequate and is recommending changes in a recent issue of Science.

Currently in the US, donors of reproductive matter are asked to sign a form giving the IVF patient who receives the donation unrestricted legal authority to determine how to dispose of any embryos that may be leftover following the IVF procedures. No one is required to tell the donor that the embryos may be used for stem cell research, discarded or donated to other parties. Stem cell research in particular is a sensitive, moral issue for many people and donors who have concerns about it should be informed of the possibility that their embryos could be used in that way.

This type of informed consent, particularly for stem cell research, was not part of the NIH guidelines of March 2009. “We urge the NIH to revise its guidelines to require that gamete donors be advised that embryos containing their sperm or egg could be used for embryonic stem cell research, before they grant dispositional authority over embryos to the IVF patient,” Lo explained. “Because some gamete donors may not approve of embryonic stem cell research, we consider this the ethically appropriate position.”

They suggest disclosure through a simple discussion or brochure shared with the potential donors. They may then sign, or not, a permission form for the various procedures. The instructions would not impede or slow the donation process for the donor or the embryo recipient. IVF patients would know in advance if the donor’s preferences coincided with theirs. They could move on to another donor if not.

“The field of human embryonic stem cell research offers enormous promise for patients suffering from devastating diseases. We want to build this field on an ethical foundation of which we can be proud,” Lo concluded.

Source: UCSF, Science, Medical News Today


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