by Theresa Spranger, Bioethics Program Alumna (MSBioethics 2012)
There was an article in the British Daily Mail recently about the possibility that eggs from aborted human females could be used for in vitro fertilization (IVF). The idea is that the ovaries of the aborted female would be harvested, and the eggs cultivated in a lab and then used in IVF treatments where a donor egg is required. Ultimately, this would lead to the birth of a baby whose biological mother was never born.
I haven’t read any of the study results first hand, so I cannot speak to the scientific accuracy of the article. Therefore, let’s discuss the issue purely as a hypothetical.
As I see it, there are several ethical issues involved with harvesting eggs from an aborted fetus:
- How do you tell a child (or an adult person for that matter) that their biological mother was never born? This would be incredibly difficult for a person to process. Imagine the feeling of knowing that you were given a life to live because your mother died, that you were given a life she never got to experience.
- Who owns the genetic information contained in those eggs? At this point in our society we do not grant the rights of person-hood to the unborn. So, do we give the right of donation to the woman who had the abortion? Is the body of the unborn child her property once it leaves her body? Is it ok to use these eggs with permission from no one? What kind of genetic testing will be done? How will this information be used? There really is no end to the questions and I don’t see how an adequate solution can be developed. Keep in mind that to give donation rights to the mother alone would be an issue because it isn’t her genes alone she is donating; it is also the genes from the father.
Both 1 and 2 are major ethical hang-ups in my opinion, but what I would really like to talk about in this post is the dichotomy in our society regarding the issue of life. Consider this scenario:
Jane is 19, in her first year of college, and discovers she is pregnant. She decides this is not the time for her to have a child and she has an abortion. Jane was carrying a little girl and at the abortion clinic they ask if she will donate the ovaries from that little girl. Jane decides to do this; the nurse tells her all about how the eggs she donates will help a couple in need conceive a child. Jane wants children someday, just not now, and she hates to see anyone who wants a child denied one. Plus, it means that this whole ordeal wasn’t for nothing; it had a purpose, right? She feels sort of empty and alone now that everything is done, maybe donating the ovaries will help bring her closure and make that empty feeling go away.
During this time, Tom and Mary are deciding what to do next. They have tried everything imaginable to conceive and are left with two options: adoption or IVF with a donor embryo. They consider the pros and cons. Adoption can take years and there is always the chance that the mother will change her mind. Can we deal with that they wonder? They have been at this for 3 years already. IVF on the other hand…it’s expensive sure, but they can start soon and maybe have a child by next year.
Tom and Mary go to the in vitro clinic and choose to use eggs from Jane’s aborted fetus. The treatment takes and 9 months later they have a healthy baby girl. Effectively making Jane, who thought she was too young to be a mother, a 20 year old grandmother.
The fact that we would consider using eggs from an aborted female highlights a real problem in our society: we are confused about life. We seem to define life as that which is “wanted.” This is illogical. How can we justify valuing the eggs (and the life they can potentially produce) more than we value the human girl they came from? Her little body was simply tossed aside after being stripped for parts. On one end of the spectrum we are literally tossing life in the trash and on the other we are painstakingly and expensively creating it in a lab.
In our story, Jane wanted to donate the eggs to help a couple in need. What if she were told about the amazing gift she could give a couple, as well as her unborn child, by choosing adoption? Would Tom and Mary have been less excited to have this little girl? Remember, they only decided against adoption because it is an arduous, bureaucratic nightmare, but isn’t there a way to fix that? And wouldn’t it be well worth our time to help parents waiting for children more quickly find the children who need parents?
A world in which unfertilized eggs are worth more than a growing female fetus is a world confused and conflicted. We create the very thing we have just destroyed.
I tire of the legal/illegal argument regarding abortion. Most people, regardless of how they feel about the legality of the procedure, agree that abortion is not ideal and should, at the very least, be rare. Let’s get creative and have a discussion about how to make abortions rare or even unnecessary. By changing the conversation and making adoption a decision to be praised and honored in our society we could decrease the overall number of abortions and fix a bit of the confusion in our society about life.
[This blog entry was originally posted in a slightly edited form on Ms. Spranger’s blog on April 7, 2013. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the author alone and do not represent the views of the Bioethics Program or Union Graduate College.]