Heterologous Embryo Transfer Poses Novel Legal Questions

Heterologous Embryo Transfer (“HET”) occurs when a woman, unable to conceive a child, has a genetically unrelated embryo implanted. This form of surrogacy, which has been used for over 30 years, is now being complicated by the trend of embryo adoption.

There are often surplus embryos left over when a couple uses assisted reproductive technology, such as in vitro fertilization. In certain situations, the couple will allow the surplus embryos to be adopted by another couple. However, this raises novel legal questions if an issue of custody arises. There is neither legislation nor court precedent addressing what would happen if the biological parents sought custody from the second couple. As embryo adoption continues to increase, there will surely be legal battles over this.

From huffingtonpost.com, “Heterologous Embryo Transfer: A New Frontier in Parenting”

Excerpt from article:

Bringing a child into the world by traditional means is a process fraught with moral, ethical and emotional complications. Bringing a child into the world by non-traditional means, such as heterologous embryo transfer (HET) increases the complications exponentially, begging questions such as what defines a parent (genes, love, pregnancy and delivery, etc…) and who does the child belong to?

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Tags: Bioethics, pregnancy, parenting

The Zika Virus and the Moral Dilemma

With the spread of Zika virus across the Catholic dominant South and Latin Americas, restrictions on women’s access to contraceptives and abortions has made its way to the forefront of the discussion.

Medical professionals and researchers suspect that the mosquito borne virus is directly responsible for the increased reporting of infants born with microcephaly, a rare neurological condition causing an infant’s head to be significantly smaller than the heads of other children of the same age and sex.  While research is still underway to determine if Zika virus actually causes microcephaly, the correlation between the two has prompted warnings from health organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC).  Such warnings advise women to avoid travel to countries affected by the virus and, for women presently living in affected countries, to postpone pregnancy.

For women living in the affected countries, heeding the health organizations’ warning is problematic.  Of the countries affected by Zika virus, a significant majority of people are Catholic.  The Catholic Church prohibits the use of birth control and abortion. Furthermore, many of the countries affected by Zika virus prohibit abortion except in instances where the pregnancy poses a risk to the mother.  Critically, these prohibitions have remained in place, despite the correlation between Zika virus and microcephaly, and both the Catholic Church, and various governments have refused to lessen such restrictions. As a result, women are being faced with an impossible predicament: seeking an illegal and religiously prohibited abortion or giving birth to an infant who may suffer from microcephaly.

Source: http://www.latimes.com/world/mexico-americas/la-fg-global-zika-abortion-story.html

Stress May Be Passed Down Through Generations

BMC Medicine, an open-access, online medical journal, recently published the results of a study indicating that stress during pregnancy may stretch across generations. Researchers subjected late-term, pregnant rats to high levels of stress, which in turn caused shorter pregnancies. Then, the researchers separated the next two generations of female rats into two groups. Group one was subjected to stress during pregnancy; group two was not subjected to stress. Both groups showed shorter pregnancies than rats whose ancestors were not stressed during their pregnancies. Thus, the study suggests that stress during pregnancy can be passed along to future generations, even causing shorter pregnancies for mothers who did not suffer high amounts of stress during pregnancy.

Read more here.

Three Biological Parents May Be the Cure for Mitochondrial Disease

Within the next two years British scientists are confident that they will be able to prevent mitochondrial disease which effects 1,000 to 4,000 children in the U.S. However, the treatment would result in babies with three biological parents.

The procedure would allow doctors to use material from two women and one man with the goal of producing healthy embryos. Mitochondria mutations are inherited maternally, and scientists believe that they can help women who carry mutated genes by using the target couple’s “nuclear DNA” while substituting healthy mitochondrial DNA from another female donor.

There are legal and ethical questions that must be addressed before this type of procedure would be allowed in Britain. But the outlook for approval is bright considering the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority group has reported that evidence “does not suggest that these techniques are unsafe.”

Read more here.