There is something sterile about the textbook definition of IVF – “a form of assisted reproduction where the eggs from a woman are extracted under anaesthetic and placed in a culture dish with thousands of sperm, allowing the process of fertilisation to take place.”
For its proponents, IVF is a profound gift from science to humanity – it gives infertile couples and single parents an opportunity to have a child. For its detractors,represents the intrusion of technology into procreation, the most sacred area of human experience. It evokes Huxley’s nightmarish vision of children decanted in vats and the disappearance of motherhood.
These conflicting perspectives are brought to life in Kylie Trounsen’s Melbourne Theatre Company play The Waiting Room. The play is an admirable attempt to capture the emotional and moral dimensions of IVF.
Professor Yuval Noah Harari of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem claims that humanity is on the verge of a major evolutionary leap, where we will overcome the confines of the human condition by integrating computers and robotics into our very being.
Speaking at the Hay Festival in Wales, Harari said he believes human beings will ‘upgrade themselves’ into god-like beings in the next 200 years:
“I think it is likely in the next 200 years or so homo-sapiens will upgrade themselves into some idea of a divine being, either through biological manipulation or genetic engineering of by the creation of cyborgs, part organic part non-organic.”
“The concept of motherhood has been emptied out”, she said to a packed audience at the Hay Festival in Wales. “We now have a genetic mother who supplies eggs... did we sit down and talk about what eggs mean to women?”
Greer was referring to women being offered “cut-price IVF” in exchange for giving clinics their eggs for research and use.
“In some cases you are told what has happened to them, and in other cases you are not”, she said.
Greer also said that the feminist push to legalise abortion in the 1960s had been overshadowed by ‘IVF barons’. She claimed that David Steele, the architect of the 1967 Abortion Act, acted out of political expediency, on account of pressure from influential IVF advocates.
Euthanasia debate has again been reignited in the UK following the death of a 54-year-old British man in Switzerland’s Dignitas clinic.
Jeffrey Spector, a businessman, chose to end his life despite not being terminally ill. Spector was suffering from a spinal tumour, and feared that he would soon suffer paralysis. In an interview just a day before he died, Spector said that he was “jumping the gun”, but asked people “not to judge” him. “My family disagree, but I believe this is in their best interests” he said. In a statement released on Monday, Spector’s family said that he died peacefully on Friday the 22nd of May: “Jeffrey ended his own life in exactly the manner and at exactly the time he wanted.”
Representatives from both sides were quick to comment on Spector’s death.
Annegret Raunigk, was just 26 weeks into her pregnancy when she gave birth to three boys and one girl last week.
The babies are expected to survive, though they may suffer complications.
Raunigk was widely criticised in the German media when it was revealed that she had received IVF and fallen pregnant. For a woman of her age pregnancy entails significant risks for both mother and child.
Raunigk said she decided to have more children after her youngest daughter, Lelia, nine, asked her for a sibling. There were other motives too: “Children keep me young”, she said in a recent interview with the German tabloid Bild.
Switzerland will hold a constitutional referendum on June 14 to decide whether to legalize preimplanation genetic testing. Swiss law currently only permits three embryos to be created in IVF treatment because this is the number which can be immediately implanted. If the constitution is altered, it will be possible to create 12 embryos, some of which could be tested for genetic diseases and the others can be frozen.
While nearly all the political parties support the amendment, it faces a substantial opposition. Marco Romano, a parliamentarian for the centre Christian Democrats, was in favour of it until he spoke to doctors in a clinic:
“I spoke at length with a professor and I had the impression that the specialists want to use anything that technology makes possible, to the point of playing with life, reducing it to a point that is almost banal …
Italian celebrity surgeon Paolo Macchiarini, who created artificial windpipes with cadaver-derived scaffolding and stem cells, has been found guilty of scientific misconduct by an investigator from Sweden’s Karolinska Institute.
Dr Macchiarini’s operations were widely reported and seemed to bring almost miraculous relief to three patients. But the post-operative reality was different. Two of the patients have died, and the third has been hospitalized in intensive care for nearly three years.
The investigation was prompted by doctors caring for the patients who found that their condition was not nearly as good as Dr Macchiarini described in his publications. According to the investigator, the surgeon “omitted some data and also fabricated or falsified some data regarding the postoperative state of patients”.
A woman at the centre of a debate over euthanasia in India has died after 42 years in a minimally conscious state. In 1973 Aruna Shanbaug, a 25-year-old nurse in Mumbai, was brutally assaulted and strangled by a contract cleaner. She did not die, but was left severely brain-damaged.
In 2010 journalist Pinki Virani applied on her behalf for euthanasia. The case went all the way to the Indian Supreme Court which decided that while “passive euthanasia” by withdrawing nutrition and hydration might be permitted, the decision was up to her surrogate decision-maker. In Aruna’s case it was King Edward Memorial Hospital and it adamantly supported on-going palliative care.
Do we really need ever-more accurate tests to detect Down syndrome in unborn children? This is the question posed by Canadian bioethicist Chris Kaposy in the Impact Ethics blog. He questions “a ‘corporate arms race’ to develop prenatal tests for Down syndrome that are accurate and less invasive, cheaper, easier to administer, and that can be administered earlier in pregnancy than previous methods of testing.” Most of the time – some estimates are as high as 90% -- women who test positive undergo an abortion.
“The larger ethical question,” he writes, “is whether this pursuit of profit is good for people who have Down syndrome or even good for the rest of us.”
The fear of a miserable death in a hospital bed rather than at home is driving public support for mercy-killing law in the UK, a Birmingham City University academic has warned.
Responding to a report published on Wednesday by The UK Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, listing some of the worst cases in recent years of terminally ill patients dying without dignity, Timothy James, senior lecturer in Medical Law and Ethics at Birmingham City University, said: "For most people, dying at home isn't about autonomy, it's about dealing with the fear of dying in a hospital with poor end of life care. The fear of dying in misery in a hospital is what is driving the assisted dying debate."