June 30, 2022

SPECIAL ESHRE SUPPLEMENT

The annual conference of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology took place in Berlin earlier in the week. After the lurid stories which emerged from last year’s event in Madrid, some specialists apparently suggested that the media should be banned. Fortunately this did not happen. Below are some of the conference highlights.

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Confront Nazi past of German fertility medicine, says historian

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Monash device could screen for all genetic diseases

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First pregnancy from frozen ovaries

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Cloning errors could affect cure potential for embryos

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Expansion of EU will lead to “fertility tourism”

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Most embryo donation parents don’t tell their child

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Human stem cells used to treat rats with Parkinson’s

Confront Nazi past of German fertility medicine, says historian

German doctors need to exorcise Nazi ghosts so that they can come to grips with contemporary ethical issues in reproductive medicine, a German medical historian told the ESHRE conference.

Until recently, studying the role of doctors in the Nazi regime was taboo. Dr Rolf Winau, of the Centre for Humanities and Health Sciences at the Charit? (medical faculty) in Berlin, cited a number of examples of how doctors in reproductive medicine cooperated with the Nazis.

The president of the German Society of Gynaecology, Walter Stoeckel, for instance, expelled Jewish doctors from his society and expressed his “enthusiastic admiration” to Hitler in a telegram. Compulsory sterilisation of children prompted no discussions in medical journals about whether the law was ethically justified, but only about how to implement it. Anatomist Hermann Stieve studied ovulation between 1942 and 1944 by examining the bodies of executed women in Berlin’s Ploetzensee prison.

At the moment, Germany has some of the strictest laws in Europe in reproductive medicine. Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, freezing embryos, embryo experimentation, surrogacy, egg donation, and therapeutic cloning are all banned. Understanding the rationale of Nazi medicine might help Germans to grapple with some of these issues.

It was not clear from media reports whether Dr Winau was suggesting that vanquishing the taboo would open the doors to these practices or show the wisdom of the bans. However, an overview of contemporary German bioethics in the latest issue of the journal The New Atlantis reports that pressure is building up for a less restrictive view of bioethics to allow Germany to compete in biotechnology. Despite fierce opposition, for instance, Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries says that human embryos are not entitled to current levels of protection. And a Berlin IVF clinic told the ESHRE conference four out of five Germans surveyed thought that pre-implantation genetic diagnosis should be allowed. It looks as though the “dictatorship of virtue” (in the words of prominent intellectual Peter Sloterdijk) imposed upon German medicine by the post-War generation is crumbling.