In the last few years the unprecedented advances in assisted conception and other aspects of human reproduction have a range of mind boggling prospects and innumerable disturbing questions regarding their medical, legal, ethical and social implications.
It all began with the development of in-vitro-fertilization (IVF) techniques primarily as a means to help infertile couples bear children. The world was amazed with the birth of the first test tube baby in 1978 in Britain. Research from then onwards has led from one thing to another-from gamete intra-fallopian transfer and zygote intra-fallopian transfer to surrogacy and micro-manipulations. Recently, a British business woman gave birth to twins in a fertility clinic in Rome using donor eggs implanted in her uterus. What startled Europe and the whole world was that the woman was 59 years old. This was followed by report from Italy that a black woman had given birth to a white baby using donor eggs to provide a better future for her child and the latest bombshell has stuck with the prospect of transplanting eggs from aborted fetuses and cadavers to deliver babies. Thus, the latest controversy is over embryo transplantation with donor eggs in post menopausal woman, sex selection racial engineering, eugenic manipulations cloning and use of ovarian tissues for cadavers and aborted fetuses. The basic argument against these recent advances is that the new reproductive technologies, when put into practice create a dangerous scenario by creating social, ethical and even medical problems.
In India, it is artificial insemination by donor sperm (AID) that is on the rise. Artificial insemination is done by using fresh or frozen semen. Frozen semen has been largely preferred as it has less chances of transmitting infection. Besides storing of sperms has other advantages- (i) it allows multiple inseminations, (ii) it ensures anonymity.
In the case of egg donations, the donor women are under 35 years of age and the recipients, usually those who have suffered premature menopause and cannot produce egg of their own. But increasing shortfall of donor eggs and the growth in the number of those who could benefit have made researchers and doctors egger to use ovarian tissue from cadavers and aborted fetuses for closing that gap. The ovary of an unborn female fetus has abut a million eggs- though immature after only a few months past gestation. Studies suggest that the ovaries of dead fetuses can be used to produce health offspring’s by transplanting them in women with premature ovarian failure who can then become pregnant naturally.
The option of freezing sperms has been open to men undergoing radical cancer therapy that would make them infertile and now women too can freeze some of their ovarian tissues if they are to undergo radical cancer therapy. But increasingly, the method of freezing ovarian eggs to utilize them later is being chosen by women desiring to delay child bearing and child rearing for career related and other reasons. Egg donations in post-menopausal women is increasing.
Medically speaking, spread of infections and chromosomal defects are the major threats seen in such donations. Women who are post menopause are usually unequipped to cope with the physical an psychological strains of childbirth.
Any use of revolutionary reproductive techniques can not be blind to the fact that human society exist and functions on the basis of certain moral and ethical values. Relationships in society especially one as crucial as that of parent and child, are the means by which such values are cherished and fostered. Anything attempting to undermine such relationships would break the cord of existence that sustains human society. Storage of eggs and sperms on the basis of anonymity for repeated usage would make every donor the genetic parent of children he may never see or known. Cases of 80 year old women having children 18 months of age make own wonder about the legitimacy of such subversion of natural biological principle.
The use of ovarian tissues from aborted fetuses, for instance, may even be advanced as an argument favoring abortion. As aborted fetus tissues help in threading diseases as Parkinson’s Disease and organs from fetuses could be used for organ transplantation, critics fear that women may be encouraged to abort fetus.
Genetic manipulations go one step further in allowing a person to choose and offspring of his liking. Further, research in genetic micromanipulation is likely to provide greater options so that even the mental and emotional characterization of a child may be decided before hand. All such techniques have thrown natural selection to winds. Those in favor of such manipulation argue that the aim is to ensure that the would-be-child has the best possible chances to lead a successful and satisfactory life. In this context, it is highly relevant to note that the concept has found favor in many counties. China has drafted a new law on eugenics that does not allow mentally retarded people an those suffering from general disease and hepatitis to marry. It also calls for abortions and sterilization to prevent ‘births of inferior quality’ and to lift up the standard of Chinese population. Singapore’s family planning programme provides for eugenic manipulations. One can only say that genetic manipulations of this kind can not be for the good of human societies encouraging and allowing domination of such preference is tantamount to advocating standards for racial superiority and superiority based on color etc. It encourages the tendency among men to discriminate against one another for no reason.
However, there are need to regulate procedures such as transplanting eggs from corpses. Such advanced and controversial reproductive techniques are yet to make their impact felt in our country.