Report on ART approved by pro-choice advocates

Groups laud focus on protection for women, children

The recent report on assisted reproductive technology (ART) by the President’s Council on Bioethics has been drawing a favorable reception from groups advocating women’s health and reproductive choice.

The nonprofit advocacy organizations, Our Bodies, Ourselves and the Center for Genetics and Society released a joint statement on April 1 regarding the initial release of the report "Reproduction and Responsibility: the Regulation of New Biotechnologies."

The recommendations proposed by the council would offer needed regulations of risky new technologies, without infringing on reproductive freedom, the statement indicates. The groups say they consider the report a positive step forward for the following reasons:

  1. It recommends putting women and children at the center of concern of policies regarding the assisted reproduction industry. Focusing on the well-being of children, as well as on the services provided to adults who are infertile, will make a critical difference in distinguishing practices that are reasonable and ethical from those that are not.
  2. It underscores the need for better research to define the risks of these new technologies. Without such data, women — the ones who most often undergo the risks involved — cannot make informed decisions. These risks have far too often been glossed over, even though many studies have called for more in-depth investigations.
  3. It documents why we need public oversight of assisted reproduction, a field that is much less regulated and privatized than other areas of medical practice. Although most vitro fertilization (IVF) practitioners are responsible and trustworthy, the voluntary standards set by trade associations such as the American Society for Reproductive Medicine have been inadequate.
  4. It contains language that effectively prohibits human reproductive cloning — a goal shared by the vast majority of Americans, as well as by many other countries that have already implemented prohibitions on human reproductive cloning.
  5. It recommends that the selling of human embryos be prohibited and that certain restrictions on the patenting of human embryos be made more explicit via legislation. This would allow an important public discussion about the commercial control of reproduction and health care.

The report also proves that people with very different personal beliefs regarding abortion, embryonic stem cell research and the use of ART can find common ground, they add.

"The core recommendations of this report are consistent with the values of pro-choice progressives and social justice advocates; indeed, they promote and affirm those values," the statement concludes. "The report demonstrates that when the stakes are high enough, individuals with philosophical, political, and religious disagreements can find ways to move forward together."

Broad focus allows cohesive examination

A key strength of the council’s effort is that they considered all facets of assisted reproductive technology from established techniques like in IVF to the still-experimental issue of therapeutic and reproductive embryonic cloning, as well as the use of prenatal genetic screening, among other things, says Adrienne Asch, the Henry R. Luce Professor in Biology, Ethics, and the Politics of Human Reproduction at Wellesley (MA) College.

The breadth of the report allows the debate to focus on articulating key basic societal values about reproduction that need to be clarified, she says.

"I think this report tries to get at underlying values and social questions and policy questions that go across all of these technologies, and I think that is a real advance," she notes. "I think that one of the reasons every time a new [genetic] advance happens, everyone gets all crazy is because they haven’t tried to figure out what makes all of these things have anything in common."

We, as a society, must begin a discussion about the values we want to honor with the use of ART, and the dangers we want to guard against, Asch says.

"We have to decide whether we want technologies to do certain things or we don’t," she explains. "But each of these technologies needs to be thought out in light of the questions about values that it gives rise to. I think, if we could get our values and commitments straight, we could evaluate cloning or stem cell research or genetic screening in light of the way they affect the sort of overarching values that we hold."

Effective flexible policy needed

A comprehensive approach to reproductive and genetic technologies is a way to ensure policy that is both effective and flexible, adds Marcy Darnovsky, president of the Center for Genetics and Society.

"A good example is Canada’s recently enacted Assisted Human Reproduction Act, which establishes principles for regulating these technologies. [The Canadians set] up a new federal agency to license and oversee all private and public clinics and laboratories using human gametes and embryos," she states. "Canada now joins the United Kingdom, Germany, and Australia as countries that have adopted comprehensive, responsible policies addressing human genetic and reproductive technologies. These policies embody differing social and political values but agree on core principles."

The report and other information from the President’s Council on Bioethics is available on-line at www.bioethics.gov/

Sources

  • Adrienne Asch, Wellesley College, 106 Central St., Wellesley, MA 02481.
  • Marcy Darnovsky, Center for Genetics and Society, 436 14th St., Suite 1302, Oakland, CA 94612.