In Vitro Ethics
What does it mean to be a 'human'? In this series we are examining our definitions of being human from several viewpoints.
In Part I, Part II, and Part III we examined the diversity of opinion, basic biology, and sexual ethics of what it means to be human. Part IV looks at the ethics issues with In Vitro reproduction of humans.
Test Tube Babies
|Creating a zygote.|
In Vitro (test tube) reproduction involves taking about 15 eggs and fertilizing them with sperm to create a zygote/embryo. The zygotes are examined prior to being implanted to insure a healthy chance for survival. Those that are likely to miscarry are destroyed. In some countries selections are also made for the sex of the zygote permitting parents to choose for a boy or girl.
Typically one, two or three zygotes are implanted in the mother's womb. Most frequently, the zygotes die and the procedure must be repeated. A far larger number of zygotes die and are miscarried than become fetuses.
The remaining zygotes created in In Vitro reproduction are often stored for later potential use. Often there are may more remaining zygotes than were used in the implantation process.
|In Vitro is immoral knowledge?|
Given that some religions believe that the zygotes have souls attached, all of these zygotes are in a form of human imposed limbo. The entire process of In Vitro reproduction is thereby immoral. In this view, all zygotes killed could be classified as murder. This view makes the technician, doctors and nurses all subject to man-slaughter charges. Indeed some religions even see that the mother must have sinned for the miscarriages to have happened.
Other religions do not see zygotes as human beings, but rather as just a group of cells. In this world view, In Vitro reproduction is just a medical procedure like the removal of a blood clot.
Science has generally taken the view that embryos are potential humans. Here the line is drawn as one of a paused process. To understand this, consider your car. When it is not running it is a machine, but not an transportation machine. When the engine is turned on it begins to function as a transportation machine and can be classified as a car. In this way, science sees embryos as non-engaged humans.
How long should we keep the embryos used for In Vitro reproduction alive? It may be technologically possible to keep them alive indefinitely in a machine. If it is murder to kill an embryo, then are we obligated to keep them “on life support” forever?
The morality of In Vitro reproduction challenges both religion and science by forcing us to examine the consequences of our ability as tool makers. Humans are learning much about the mechanics of how humans form. Indeed we are learning to manipulate those mechanics in ways never before dreamed possible.