March 5, 2024

May doctors ethically retrieve eggs from comatose women?

Intriguing case at MGH

In 2008 doctors at Massachusetts General
Hospital were presented with a novel ethical dilemma. A 36-year-old woman had
collapsed on an international flight with a massive heart attack and slipped
into a coma. Her husband and relatives agreed that she should be taken off life
support and allowed to die. However, the order was suddenly reversed. One of
the relatives had been surfing the internet and discovered the possibility of
retrieving and freezing her eggs so that the she could have a posthumous child
with her husband’s sperm.

This was an unusual case, according to an
article in a recent issue of the NEJM. While retrieval of sperm in such
circumstances has become a familiar procedure, egg retrieval is almost unheard
of. They decided not to proceed because neither the woman (nor her husband) had
ever expressed any interest in having children, because she could not consent,
because the procedure would not benefit her, and because the protracted egg
retrieval procedure might actually kill her. Fortunately the husband agreed.

Evelyne Shuster, of the University of
Pennsylvania, told the Boston Globe that she disliked the notion of creating a
“souvenir baby”. “To reproduce is to experience the joy of giving birth, of
caring and seeing your child develop to become an adult,” She said. “This is
nonexistent when you have posthumous birth.” ~ NEJM, July 15;
Globe,  July 15

Michael Cook
informed consent
organ donation