Embryo research to reduce need for in vitro fertilization raises ethical concerns
Bioethical guidelines are used to define the moral boundaries of medical practice and research. The integration of these principles is imperative to ensure that treatments and research do not involve malpractices. This is especially important when dealing with human subjects. Often researchers conduct studies that may bring benefit to society and help in the development of the scientific field. However, not all studies are free of bioethical controversies. One such research was conducted at a hospital nearby Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. This essay aims to present a summary of the research and explore the bioethical implications related to it.
Summary of the Issue
Embryo research was conducted at a hospital in Mexico. The subjects of the research were 81 young women. Participants were paid to be a part of the study involving insemination. Later, the developing embryos were flushed from their bodies and examined for the purpose of research. The research revealed that the embryos were genetically healthy just like those produced through in vitro fertilization (IVF). However, physically these embryos were healthier than those created through IVF. This research is important as it provides a much simpler and in-expensive technique for couples to conceive healthy children as compared to the alternative method i.e. via IVF.
Despite its benefits, many researchers denounced the study as unethical. The foremost concern put forward is by a bioethicist, Laurie Zoloth, who found the research to be extremely disturbing as it utilized the female body as a petri dish, subjecting them to hormone injections intended to stimulate the ovaries for egg production. Although this method is currently prevalent to obtain donor eggs for couples with infertility concerns, the ethical debate is fueled because the eggs are not extracted from their ovaries with a needle as commonly practiced for IVF. Instead, women were inseminated and then subjected to lavage, a procedure that uses a dedicated device to extract any developing embryos from their wombs.
The genetic makeup of the embryos was similar to that produced through IVF however, physically, the embryos created by the lavage method were healthier. Women were motivated to participate as they received an amount of $1400 which is equal to their two-month wages. Zoloth further argues that the research was unethical as women were subjected to powerful injections to enhance egg production. This procedure itself carries certain risks. Moreover, some women were subjected to chemical or surgical abortion later on to remove embryos that were not successfully extracted through lavage.
Implications and Importance
While the ethical implications of this embryo research range from morally questionable use of the female body to subjecting them to risky procedures such as injections and abortion, the study is termed to be important in many aspects. Not only did it produce embryos that were physically healthier but also aimed to provide a much cheaper alternative to in vitro fertilization method. The research was approved by the relevant authorities and the participants were informed of the potential risks. The key purpose of this study was to explore a method whereby carriers of genetically inherited diseases such as cystic fibrosis or beta-thalassemia, may be able to bear healthy babies. Although this was previously achieved through IVF, the researchers aimed to explore a cost-effective method that did not involve the painful procedure of extracting eggs. Moreover, it is the first-ever study that analyses embryos conceived naturally and does not require IVF for genetic testing. While the ethical debate over the procedure may persist, the embryos produced through this research have created five pregnancies and resulted in the birth of three healthy babies (Stein, 2020). The benefits of this study, especially for couples struggling with conception, are numerous. Therefore, the opinions regarding the moral implications of the study may vary.
Stein, R. (2020). Embryo research to reduce need for in vitro fertilization raises ethical concerns. Retrieved from NPR: https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/01/15/796018096/embryo-research-to-reduce-need-for-in-vitro-fertilization-raises-ethical-concer