Over the last couple of decades, oocyte donation has become common, important, and sometimes lucrative. Women who donate eggs are often offered fees, though ostensibly only to offset their expenses and limited to no more than $10,000, following recommendations adopted by the fertility industry. Is the industry adhering to its recommendations? A study of advertisements published in college newspapers raises questions.
Capitalizing on the hype surrounding stem cell research, numerous clinics around the world offer “stem cell therapies” for a variety of medical conditions. Despite questions about the safety and efficacy of these interventions, anecdotal evidence suggests a relatively large number of patients are traveling to receive these unproven treatments — a practice called “stem cell tourism.” Because these unproven treatments pose risks to individual patients and to legitimate translational stem cell research, stem cell tourism has generated substantial policy concern and (...) inspired attempts to reduce these risks through the development of guidelines for patients and medical practitioners. This paper examines the roles and responsibilities of physicians in patients' home countries with respect to patients' decisions to try unproven stem cell therapies abroad. Specifically, it examines professional guidance from two organizations — the American Medical Association and the International Society for Stem Cell Research — and assesses physicians' professional and legal obligations to patients considering unproven stem cell therapies. Then, drawing on qualitative interviews conducted with patients who traveled abroad for unproven stem cell treatments, it explores the roles that physicians actually play in patients' decisions and compares these actual roles with their professional and legal responsibilities. The paper concludes with a discussion of strategies to help improve the guidance physicians provide to patients considering unproven treatments. (shrink)
Stem cell science, using both embryonic and a variety of tissue-specific stem cells, is advancing rapidly and offers promise to improve medical care in the future. Yet, with the notable exception of hematopoietic stem cell transplantation, a long-established approach to treating certain cancers of the blood system, this promise is long term and most stem cell research focuses on basic scientific questions or the collection of pre-clinical data. Although some clinical trials are underway, most are focused on safety, and novel (...) effective therapy is likely a long way off. Despite the preliminary nature of most stem cell research, however, numerous clinics around the world offer stem cell “therapies” to patients today outside the context of a clinical trial. Although the number of patients who have received these stem cell-based interventions is unknown, anecdotal reports suggest a substantial population of patients is willing to try them, despite unresolved questions about their safety and efficacy. (shrink)
This study analyzes 435 oocyte donor recruitment advertisements to assess whether entities recruiting donors of oocytes to be used for in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures include a disclosure of risks associated with the donation process in their advertisements. Such disclosure is required by the self-regulatory guidelines of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) and by law in California for advertisements placed in the state. We find very low rates of risk disclosure across entity types and regulatory regimes, although risk (...) disclosure is more common in advertisements placed by entities subject to ASRM's self-regulatory guidelines. Advertisements placed in California are more likely to include risk disclosure, but disclosure rates are still quite low. California-based entities advertising outside the state are more likely to include risk disclosure than non-California entities, suggesting that California's law may have a modest “halo effect.” Our results suggest that there is a significant ethical and policy problem with the status quo in light of the known and unknown risks of oocyte donation and the importance of risk disclosure to informed consent in the context of oocyte donation. (shrink)
In vitro fertilization using donated oocytes has proven to be an effective treatment option for many prospective parents struggling with infertility, and the usage of donated oocytes in assisted reproduction has increased markedly since the technique was first successfully used in 1984. Data published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the use of assisted reproductive technologies in the United States indicate that approximately 12% of all ART cycles in the country now use donated oocytes. The increased use (...) of oocyte donation in the United States has prompted discussion regarding risks associated with the process and how best to ensure the safety of oocyte donors.Physical risks associated with oocyte donation include bleeding, infection, ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome and a potential, although unconfirmed, increased risk of developing various forms of cancer, such as uterine, colon, breast, ovarian, and endometrial cancers. (shrink)
In vitro fertilization using donated oocytes is an important medical technique that provides the only option for some infertile patients to have children. The technique remains ethically contentious, however, and, as a result of this controversy, different oversight approaches have been developed in countries around the world. This paper examines the oversight and practice of oocyte donation in Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States to examine how policy choices have influenced the development and use of this medical technology. (...) Examining per capita utilization of oocyte donation in these three countries provides evidence that supply-side policies—specifically policies affecting the compensation of potential oocyte donors—have substantially influenced the use of this technology. These results should provide useful insight for policymakers developing or revising oocyte donation policies. (shrink)
We believe that the professional responsibility of bioscience and biotechnology professionals includes a social responsibility to contribute to the resolution of ethically fraught policy problems generated by their work. It follows that educators have a professional responsibility to prepare future professionals to discharge this responsibility. This essay discusses two pilot projects in ethics pedagogy focused on particularly challenging policy problems, which we call “fractious problems”. The projects aimed to advance future professionals’ acquisition of “fractious problem navigational” skills, a set of (...) skills designed to enable broad and deep understanding of fractious problems and the design of good policy resolutions for them. A secondary objective was to enhance future professionals’ motivation to apply these skills to help their communities resolve these problems. The projects employed “problem based learning” courses to advance these learning objectives. A new assessment instrument, “Skills for Science/Engineering Ethics Test”, was designed and administered to measure the success of the courses in doing so. This essay first discusses the rationale for the pilot projects, and then describes the design of the pilot courses and presents the results of our assessment using SkillSET in the first pilot project and the revised SkillSET 2.0 in the second pilot project. The essay concludes with discussion of observations and results. (shrink)
Oocyte donation raises conflicts of interest and commitment for physicians but little attention has been paid to how to reduce these conflicts in practice. Yet the growing popularity of assisted reproduction has increased the stakes of maintaining an adequate oocyte supply and minimizing conflicts. A growing body of professional guidelines, legal challenges to professional self-regulation, and empirical research on the practice of oocyte donation all call for renewed attention to the issue. As empirical findings better inform existing conflicts and their (...) potential harms, we can better attempt to reduce these conflicts. To that end, the article first describes the nature of conflicts in oocyte donation and relevant regulations and professional guidelines. We then describe studies on conflicts at four phases of oocyte donation: recruitment, screening, stimulation, and post-stimulation monitoring. Next we consider three models for conflict reduction in medicine generally: improved professional self-regulation, outright restriction like Stark anti-referral laws, or the use of conflict mediators, like in living organ donation. We ultimately conclude that improved professional self-regulation is a reasonable starting place for oocyte donation. (shrink)