Sperm Donors, Products Liability, and the Rights of Children

<Lori Andrews by Lori Andrews

When I first started working in the infertility field 25 years ago, the AIDS crisis had emerged, but doctors still were not screening sperm donors for the virus.  One doctor actually said to me, “I didn’t screen my wife before I had children with her, why should I screen a sperm donor?”

The infertile couples didn’t see it that way.  There might be lots of reasons to have a child with your spouse, but when couples go to infertility clinics, they are specifically trying to have a healthy baby.  Yet, due to lack of screening, children created through sperm donation have been born with AIDS, hepatitis, cytomegalovirus, and a variety of genetic diseases.  No mechanism exists for sperm banks to learn of the children’s problems and stop using the donor for future pregnancies.

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Deciding the Fate of Frozen Embryos

Lori Andrews by Lori Andrews

What do Nadya Suleman and Barack Obama have in common?  The mother of octuplets and the President whose Executive Order allows funding for embryonic stem cell research have raised questions about the fate of frozen human embryos.

Over half a million human embryos are frozen in in vitro fertilization clinics across the country.  After Glenda and Scott Lyons had a child through in vitro fertilization, they decided to donate their 14 excess embryos to two other couples.  This month's Good Housekeeping contains an in-depth report of the couple’s decision and the unique family tree that resulted, with seven biological siblings being raised in three different families. 

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Coerced Korean Egg Donor Loses Case

JulieBergerBy Julie Burger

Debate over embryonic stem cells heats up once again, between proponents claiming the technology will be a panacea to cure the world's ills and opponents contesting the hype and raising ethical and legal issues.  One such issue hit the Korean courts on February 18—the coercion of egg donors.  The saga began when Hwang Woo-Suk, a South Korean researcher, was hailed for his groundbreaking research after he reported in Science in 2004 that he had successfully cultivated human embryonic stem cells from cloned embryos.  One year later, he reported the creation of patient-specific stem cells.  Both articles were retracted after reports surfaced that much of Hwang's work had been fabricated.  As the story unraveled, more ethical and scientific violations were revealed.

Hwang submitted duplicative photographic images of cells to Science which he falsely claimed supported his creation of different cell lines in 2005.  He also manipulated the DNA testing of the cell lines to support his desired results.  Allegations abound that Hwang switched samples to cover up the falsification of data and potentially embezzled research funds.

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CDC Data Highlights a Need for Regulation of Infertility Docs

Jake MeyerLori Andrews
by Jake Meyer and Lori Andrews

The Suleman octuplets have captured Americans’ hearts, but the actions of the mother and doctor have raised people’s ire.  Blogging here last week, Dr. Bruce Patsner pointed out that self-regulation of the infertility industry is insufficient to protect women and children from harm.

Infertility specialist Richard Paulson told Time that we shouldn’t use “this incredibly rare event” to legislate.  But the practice of transferring too many embryos is far from rare and suggests that the billion dollar infertility industry needs stricter oversight.

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The Octuplets: A Medical Mistake Needing More Regulation?

Bruce PatsnerGUEST BLOGGER Bruce Patsner, M.D., J.D.

The spotlight and the story line have been shifting continuously since the news of the delivery of octuplets by Nadya Suleman was first announced by Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in California on January 26, 2009.  Staged photo shoots of the smiling faces of dozens of physicians and nursing staff involved in the historic Cesarean delivery of the eight premature infants (only the second known living set of octuplets in the U.S.) were quickly replaced by interviews with family members and efforts to secure multi-million dollar contracts for morning talk show appearances.  However, public amazement quickly turned to consternation and in some cases outrage when it was revealed that the birth mother was divorced, unemployed, disabled, on food stamps and already the mother of six previous children.  Kaiser Permanente is asking California taxpayers to foot the bill for the octuplets' seven-figure hospital bill.

Infertility specialists almost immediately began to question the rationale for implanting all eight embryos, and a noted medical ethicist immediately labeled the conduct of all parties concerned "unethical."  A determined but unsuccessful effort began to keep the identity of the infertility specialist who implanted eight embryos from becoming known in the face of mounting public and medical criticism.  Two weeks after the octuplets' birth, the California Medical Board announced that it would investigate the infertility specialist for potential violations of the standard of care.  Ms. Suleman asserted in an interview with NBC News that "Those [the embryos] are my children, and that's what was available and I used them. So, I took a risk. It's a gamble. It always is."

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Octuplets: Medical Miracle or Medical Mistake?

Lori Andrews by Lori Andrews

When octuplets were born at Kaiser Permanente Bellflower Medical Center in California, the doctor overseeing the 46 health care professionals in the delivery room called the event "marvelous" and described the mother as "courageous."  But was the event really marvelous?  Or was it a public health nightmare of fertility treatments gone awry?

Between 1980 and 2003, the number of higher-order multiples (triplets or more) increased four-fold.  The prime culprits responsible for this rise in multiples are fertility drugs and in vitro fertilization (IVF).  While other countries regulate the number of embryos that can be transferred to a woman during an in vitro fertilization treatment, the U.S. does not.  As a consequence, one in three in vitro fertilization births involves multiples. 

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Divorce, Bioethics Style: Can a Kidney Donor Get His Organ Back From His Ex?

Lori Andrews by Lori Andrews

New options in medical therapies, including reproductive technologies and organ donation, provoke heated debates among philosophers and physicians.  But these therapies also create disputes in the unlikeliest of places:  divorce courts.

When a man has an infertility problem, his wife can be inseminated with donor sperm to create a child for the couple.  But what if the couple later split?  Initially, some ex-wives tried to deny their ex-husbands visitation rights, saying the men had no biological bond to the children.  And some ex-husbands tried to shirk child support, saying “I’m not that baby’s daddy.”  Courts initially fumbled (with a 1956 Illinois court decision holding that donor insemination constituted adultery, even if the husband consented).  But ultimately, courts and most state legislatures came to a solution that benefited the child: a man who consented to the insemination of his wife has the rights and responsibilities of a legal father.

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