Embryo Bank

Minus a short interruption for college football, I'll stick with the medical ethics theme (I promise to get back to politics next).  This one is a pretty easy call for me.  Apparently, there's a clinic in Texas that is selling not sperm or eggs, but actual fertilized embryos.  Though the clinic offers “adoption” of already fertilized embryos that are extras from couples undergoing fertility treatment, what sets this new program apart is that prospective parents can select the sperm and egg donor and have the clinic create an embryo for implantation.  Unlike an embryo from a typical IVF round that belongs to the parents until they relinquish the rights, this embryo, a completely unique human organism, is the property of a fertility clinic, until they transfer rights to the person to be implanted.  This one just strikes me as wrong, though apparently a number of ethicists disagree.  Some highlights from the article. 

A Texas
company has started producing batches of ready-made embryos that single
women and infertile couples can order after reviewing detailed
information about the race, education, appearance, personality and
other characteristics of the egg and sperm donors.

“We're increasingly treating children like commodities,” said Mark A. Rothstein, a bioethicist at the University of Louisville in Kentucky. “It's like you're ordering a computer from Dell:
You give them the specs, and they put it in the mail. I don't think we
should consider mail-order computers and other products the same way we
consider children.”

Prospective parents have long been able to
select egg or sperm donors based on ethnicity, education and other
traits. Couples can also “adopt” embryos left over at fertility
clinics, or have embryos created for them if they need both eggs and
sperm. But the new service marks the first time anyone has started
turning out embryos as off-the-shelf products.

“I know some people say: 'This is shocking. Embryos made to order,' ” said John A. Robertson of the University of Texas at Austin,
who advises fertility specialists on ethical issues. “But if you step
back a little bit, you realize that people are already choosing sperm
and egg donors in separate transactions. Combining them doesn't pose
any new major ethical problems.”

I am more inclined to agree with the following two commenters:

“People have long warned we were moving toward a 'Brave New World,' ” said Robert P. George of Princeton University,
who serves on the President's Council on Bioethics. “This is just more
evidence that we haven't been able to restrain this move towards
treating human life like a commodity. This buying and selling of eggs
and sperm and now embryos based on IQ points and PhDs and other traits
really moves us in the direction of eugenics.”
“We find this very troubling,” agreed Steven Ory, president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. “This is essentially making embryos a commodity and using technology to breed them, if you will, for certain traits.”

Anyway, one thing we can all agree upon.  It is indeed a Brave New World (a book I haven't read since 8th grade, but one that strikes me as being a classic more for the power of its ideas than its actual execution). 

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College athletics and greed

As I'm taking a break from watching my grad school Alma Mater get thrashed in the National Championship game, I just need to complain about the fact that this game is on Fox Sports.  I know it is cliche to complain about college athletics and greed, but did the NCAA really have to award a contract for the national championship game to a network that has no idea what it is doing with college football and things it can cover up the fact by a lot of fancy cameras?  CBS and ABC have offered top-notch college football coverage all year and then the biggest game of the year goes to a network without a clue about the sport.  Just plain wrong.  Though, perhaps it would bother me less if the results of the game were more to my liking.  

A child forever

If you have not heard the story of the family with the severely disabled 9-year old daughter who has given her a series of medical treatments and surgery so that she will stay permanently a child (in the physical sense), it is really quite fascinating and certainly raises a host of ethical questions.  Basically, their daughter Ashley has the brain and physical abilities of roughly a 3-month old baby with no hope of improvement.  In order to improve her quality of life, the parents believed, and a hospital ethics board agreed, that Ashley would benefit from keeping a permanently small stature and not undergoing the physical maturation that goes along with becoming a woman.   I originally heard the story on NPR and you have to be little creeped out by the idea of making a person a permanent child, whatever their disability may be.  Today, I checked out the parents' website and have to say, they make a pretty compelling case.  Personally, I think it is hard to judge anybody in a situation like this till you have walked a mile in their shoes.  I don't think I would do this for my own child, but I am not sure that this family should be condemned for doing so.  But maybe they should be.  I think it will be quite interesting to see if this becomes a trend.  

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